What’s en­er­gis­ing SA’s shift from re­new­able to nu­clear?

It’s about what the politi­cians want, says ex­pert from Ger­many, world’s No 1 in re­new­ables

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - LUYOLO MKENTANE

AGERMAN think-tank be­lieves lack of po­lit­i­cal will could be among the rea­sons South Africa has not em­braced re­new­able en­ergy to solve its en­ergy cri­sis de­spite its po­ten­tial.

The South African gov­ern­ment, which is in favour of nu­clear en­ergy to power the coun­try, is still nurs­ing a blood­ied nose af­ter the West­ern Cape High Court judg­ment in April declar­ing nu­clear agree­ments with Rus­sia, the US and South Korea un­law­ful and un­con­sti­tu­tional and set­ting them aside.

Crit­ics have said nu­clear build costs could run up to R1 tril­lion, money tax­pay­ers could ill af­ford in th­ese harsh eco­nomic times.

Markus Steigen­berger, deputy ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Agora En­ergiewende (Ger­man for en­ergy tran­si­tion), an eco­nomic think-tank, crit­i­cised Eskom for not sign­ing the 37 out­stand­ing agree­ments with in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers (IPPs) for the sup­ply of re­new­able en­ergy.

He had just re­turned to Berlin from South Africa where he gave pre­sen­ta­tions at work­shops in Joburg and Pre­to­ria last week at the in­vi­ta­tion of the Cape Town-based Cen­tre for En­vi­ron­men­tal Rights.

In an in­ter­view with In­de­pen­dent Me­dia in Berlin last week, Steigen­berger said he had gone to South Africa to get a “bet­ter view” of the gov­ern­ment’s en­ergy pol­icy and to share Ger­many’s en­ergy pol­icy with stake­hold­ers.

For Eskom not to have signed the IPPs was “very harm­ful to the re­new­able en­ergy in­dus­try”, he said.

Pub­lic En­ter­prises Min­is­ter Lynne Brown has said re­new­able en­ergy was ex­pen­sive, cost­ing R2.14 per kilo­watt hour to pro­duce.

Eskom would re­port­edly only be able to charge con­sumers about 84 cents per kilo­watt hour, and the power util­ity had indi­cated it would only sign the IPPs when the cost of en­ergy was 77 cents per kilo­watt hour or less.

But Steigen­berger said re­new­able en­ergy was “very, very cheap” com­pared to “dan­ger­ous” nu­clear en­ergy and blamed the “cur­rent po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion for the stale­mate”.

“There is a lot of dis­cus­sion now about whether South Africa should de­ploy more re­new­able en­ergy or whether there should be more nu­clear and coal. That dis­cus­sion is very harm­ful to the re­new­able en­ergy in­dus­try,” he said.

“I was told that some Ger­man com­pany op­er­at­ing in the re­new­able en­ergy sec­tor is con­sid­er­ing clos­ing its of­fice in South Africa. Oth­ers too are also con­tem­plat­ing pulling out of South Africa.”

Steigen­berger said the in­dus­try was fairly new, but it faced dev­as­tat­ing chal­lenges. He said South Africa could learn from Ger­many about re­new­able en­ergy. Ger­many is re­garded as the world’s first ma­jor re­new­able en­ergy econ­omy, with 1.5 so­lar pho­to­voltaic sys­tems, 23000 wind tur­bines dis­trib­uted over 357 000km² and 350000 peo­ple em­ployed in the sec­tor.

“One of the things South Africa could learn from Ger­many is that you can op­er­ate a power sys­tem with very high share of wind and so­lar. Eskom and the SA gov­ern­ment are afraid of hav­ing too much weather-de­pen­dent en­ergy on their sys­tem. They think this will put sta­bil­ity at risk and re­sult in black­outs,” Steigen­berger said.

“What we have learned in Ger­many, Den­mark, Spain and Por­tu­gal is that you can have a very sta­ble power sys­tem with wind and so­lar. There is no rea­son to be afraid of wind and so­lar.

“The chal­lenge we are fac­ing now is ex­pand­ing our grids. We have very lit­tle land in Ger­many. In South Africa you don’t have land short­ages. But, all in all, the Ger­man peo­ple and de­ci­sion-mak­ers, the politi­cians and gov­ern­ment, all agree that we want en­ergy tran­si­tion.

“The ques­tion is: ‘How ex­actly do we im­ple­ment that?’ That’s where we have a lot of strug­gle,” said Steigen­berger.

He added that re­new­able en­ergy was the most re­li­able sys­tem, cit­ing in­ter­rup­tions of 12 min­utes per year of sys­tems in Ger­many.

This coun­try had so much po­ten­tial for re­new­able en­ergy com­pared to Europe: “But the ques­tion is: Do politi­cians want it? This is the key ques­tion.”

And so it it would seem, con­sid­er­ing that in Au­gust last year Eskom ir­reg­u­larly awarded Tegeta Ex­plo­ration and Re­sources, a Gupta-owned com­pany, a R7­bil­lion coal con­tract with­out a ten­der. Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s son Duduzane owns 12.8% of Tegeta.

Mkentane is on a twom­onth fel­low­ship with the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal­ists’ Pro­gramme.

Do politi­cians want it? This is the key ques­tion

PIC­TURE: EPA

CHEAPER AND SAFER: Dawn at the Jef­freys Bay Wind Farm in the Eastern Cape. This wind farm sup­plies 460000MWh per year, enough clean, re­new­able elec­tri­cal en­ergy to meet the needs of 100000 av­er­age South African house­holds.

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