Eskom CEO says renewable energy is long-term solution to load shedding

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Wednesday, 19 October 2022 06:00

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham

Renewable energy can end load shedding in South Africa once advances in battery and storage technology are achieved, Eskom CEO André de Ruyter said.

New generation capacity is needed due to South Africa’s ageing coal fleet and renewable energy is the “cheapest and quickest to deploy,” de Ruyter told an online event organised by Standard Bank. “There’s an opportunity to create an entirely new industry.”

State-owned utility Eskom is targeting net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Its strategy includes adopting cleaner-fuel technologies and renewables for older power stations, and allowing its land to be used for renewable projects. The company this month signed agreements with four independent power producer investors to lease land to build new clean energy capacity.

The land parcels are around the Majuba and Tutuka power stations in Mpumalanga province. More land will be offered in coming months around the Kendal and Kusile power stations in Mpumalanga, and the retired Ingagane power station in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal. Up to 30,000 hectares may be made available in the long term.

There’s a need to move beyond the “binary” debate between proponents of coal and renewable energy, de Ruyter said. There’s no way that South Africa will stop using coal to appease the Global North, he argued. “South Africa will be a major consumer of coal for a very long time.”

  • Yet energy transition is unavoidable and people might as well try to bring back fax machines as prevent it, de Ruyter said. The process, he argued, needs to be fair.
  • There’s no way to simply close down coal mining operations in communities which have supported the industry for generations. “We can’t just put a padlock on the gate.”
  • Eskom will seek to repurpose power stations wherever possible and provide power training to try to ensure “life after coal,” he said.

Gas scenarios

Organisations such as the Canada-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) have argued that South Africa has no need for gas until at least 2035 and a decision on adoption can be delayed until around 2030.

De Ruyter sees no basis for such arguments. Eskom has run more than 100 scenarios over South Africa’s energy consumption over the next 30 to 40 years, he said. “We can’t come up with a scenario that gives us a stable grid without gas.” Still, the most likely scenario is that gas at the end of the 2030s will account for about 5%-6% of consumption and be used mainly to help meet peak demand, he said.

It would be rational to redirect decarbonisation funding from Europe because carbon can be removed from the system much more cheaply in South Africa, de Ruyter said. “Africa should be assisted in its transition to a lower carbon economy.” In South Africa, Eskom provides the “cheapest and quickest decarbonisation route.”

The company should have priority for concessional finance over long-term projects such as green hydrogen, he said. “The jury is still out” on the viability of the export of green hydrogen from South Africa, he said.

Bottom line

Eskom wants to prove that it can be a key player in scaling up South African renewable energy.

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