As South Africans battle some of the worst load-shedding ever, there is growing pressure on Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe to allow for more renewables and battery storage to address the deepening energy crisis.
Fourteen civil society organisations, in an open letter, requested that Mantashe immediately issue determinations for the procurement of 13 600 MW of renewable energy and 1 575 MW of storage capacity.
Among the groups which have signed off on the letter include environmental activists 350Africa.org, Fossil Free South Africa which successfully led a campaign to get UCT to divest from coal, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), and the Green Connection which has been involved in the fight to stop oil and gas exploration off South African shores.
The organisations have given Mantashe 10 days to issue the determination. Failing this, the groups will approach President Cyril Ramaphosa to instruct the minister to do so.
In the letter, the groups highlight that the electricity crisis and load-shedding causes "human suffering" and costs the South African economy "billions".
They also note that the minister is empowered to issue determinations allowing for large-scale new electricity generation capacity – over 100 MW – to be built. Citing the Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) of 2019, they indicate that as much as 20 400 MW of renewable energy generation capacity is to be built by 2030, along with 2 088 MW of storage capacity.
While the minister in September 2020 issued determinations for 6 800 MW of renewable energy to be procured, determinations for the remaining 13 600 MW still need to be issued. Similarly, determinations of 513 MW of storage had been issued, and 1 575 MW remains.
The organisations note that in cases of urgency related to energy security – the issuance of determinations does not need to follow a timeline set out in the IRP. They, therefore, urge Mantashe to act urgently.
"Renewable energy and storage have been shown to be far quicker to build than other forms of generation. If Minister Mantashe acts with urgency and carries the best interest of South Africans at heart, he should do everything in his power to add more electricity to the grid as quickly as possible. There is an urgent need for him to sign determinations for large-scale wind, solar and storage capacity," said Peter Becker, spokesperson of one of the signatories, Koeberg Alert Alliance.
Thando Lukuko from the South African Climate Action Network echoed Becker's views. "South Africa's electricity supply is in dire straits… We strongly call on Minister Mantashe to unlock the 13GW of renewable energy and storage as approved by Cabinet in the 2019 IRP. Urgent action is now an imperative, more than ever."
The civil society groups are not alone in demanding the government to act. The National Planning Commission has called for an emergency plan to accelerate the procurement of new generation capacity to address the energy crisis. The plan calls for 10 000 MW of wind and solar power to be procured, along with 5 000 MW of battery storage, Fin24 previously reported.
Government has launched two tender processes in the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) – each of the bid windows aim to secure 2 600 MW of renewable power. Bid Window 5 is in the process of reaching financial close and the deadline for Bid Window 6 submissions is in August.
Independent thinktank Meridian Economics recently issued a report indicating that load-shedding could have been reduced by 96.5% in 2021 if government had not stalled the REIPPPP in 2016. By now, at least 5 000 MW of renewable energy would have been procured.
This would have reduced reliance on peaking plants that depend on diesel to keep the system stable and would have resulted in cost savings for Eskom of R2.5-billion and reduced tariffs to consumers.