Power-stricken SA weighs want to scale back emissions and maintain lights on

Like many creating nations, South Africa is struggling to fulfill rising vitality wants but keep away from deepening Earth’s carbon disaster, one of many many dilemmas besetting the UN local weather talks, which resume in Glasgow on 31 October.

Eskom’s Medupi energy station. Image: Eskom.co.za

JOHANNESBURG – Whenever you fly into Johannesburg, photo voltaic panels appear to gleam in every single place, from the roofs of mansions and small township houses alike.

However these glittering Twenty first-century panels masks South Africa’s dependence on a grimy Nineteenth-century vitality supply: coal.

Like many creating nations, South Africa is struggling to fulfill rising vitality wants but keep away from deepening Earth’s carbon disaster, one of many many dilemmas besetting the UN local weather talks, which resume in Glasgow on 31 October.

South Africa’s persevering with habit to coal needs to be seen within the context of rolling blackouts which were part of life since 2007.

Schedules for energy cuts are shared on apps and in information experiences, together with quotidian information like climate and visitors jams.

“As a younger South African I’m scared,” environmental activist Ditebogo Lebea mentioned throughout a webinar organised by the think-tank South African Institute of Worldwide Affairs. “Our nation is dealing with an vitality disaster that wants pressing consideration.”

The facility cuts are a headache for residents and disastrous for companies, undermining efforts to carry down a 34% unemployment fee.

When the disaster first erupted, complete cities had been unexpectedly plunged into darkness, prompting offended finger-pointing.

The federal government sifted by means of each conceivable answer to attempt to resolve the issue.

Steep reductions – as much as 100 % – had been provided for houses to undertake photo voltaic water heating. Wind farms sprouted up. A desert blossomed into Africa’s largest photo voltaic farm.

However the nation additionally determined to construct not one, however two gargantuan coal-powered vegetation, every producing about 4,800 Megawatts.

Working as a unit, they are going to type the most important coal energy advanced on the earth, topping even China’s huge coal enlargement.

By comparability, the photo voltaic farm produces 50 megawatts of energy.

The primary new plant has come on-line in suits and begins, dogged by design flaws and corruption on the state energy firm Eskom. The second continues to be underneath building.


Coal already gives 80% of South Africa’s energy, making it the world’s twelfth largest greenhouse gasoline emitter in 2019, based on International Carbon Atlas.

But South Africa enjoys 2,500 hours of sunshine per 12 months on common – round 600 greater than solar energy champion Germany.

“Everybody acknowledges renewable vitality is an enormous alternative in South Africa,” mentioned vitality analyst Argon Poorum of the non-profit GreenCape.

The nation has tried to faucet that chance.

In 2010, South Africa launched an avant-garde renewable energy public sale system to draw non-public traders.

5 years later, Eskom unexpectedly pulled the plug, claiming renewable energy was too dear.

Chaos in vitality coverage was fuelled by former President Jacob Zuma, who took workplace in 2009.

He tossed out photo voltaic plans and tried to barter a back-channel, R1 trillion ($67 billion) nuclear vitality cope with Russia.

That plan was thwarted by activists, the opposition and a rebel inside Zuma’s personal cupboard, however the harm was executed.

Greenhouse gases rose 10% from 2000 to 2017, based on authorities figures.

Zuma’s successor Cyril Ramaphosa is steering a brand new course. He revived the renewable vitality scheme final 12 months and made it simpler for corporations to generate their very own photo voltaic and wind energy.

Nuclear stays a part of the combo, and three licences have been permitted for floating energy vegetation that use pure gasoline, a fossil vitality that’s way more fuel-efficient than coal.


Eskom has in the meantime got down to regularly decommission previous coal vegetation over the subsequent three many years, aiming to steadiness the brand new vegetation’ emissions.

Coal retains some political heft. Power Minister Gwede Mantashe has championed controversial “clear coal” applied sciences, partly to retain badly wanted mining jobs, in a sector that total employs round 500,000 individuals, based on the most recent official figures.

However the authorities is hoping to safe financing at COP26 to finance Eskom’s migration away from coal.

One objective of the convention is to get wealthy nations to observe by means of on pledges to lift not less than $100 billion a 12 months to assist creating nations shift to inexperienced vitality.

South Africa desires a slice of that cash, which may go a good distance towards filling gaps in home funding.

“We’ve left it too late,” mentioned vitality professional Chris Yelland. “However higher late than by no means.”

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