While there has been “very positive engagement” in the lead-up to COP26, power utility Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter stresses that the coal value chains and communities that surround its coal-fired generation plants “cannot be left in the lurch” as foreign governments look to support South Africa in its just energy transition.
If that happens, De Ruyter says, “socioeconomic misery and ghost towns” will be left behind and unemployment figures will worsen.
It is for this reason that he suggests a plan be put in place over the next 10 to 15 years for the country’s just energy transition to take place.
De Ruyter says this plan will not be a “one-off enormous cash injection” into Eskom.
“Keep in mind that it’s not only about generation but also our transmission and distribution,” he comments, noting that about R35-billion will be required to execute the just transition plan.
However, De Ruyter is confident that Eskom is seen as a “credible partner” within South Africa’s carbon-intensive economy.
Eskom, he explains, offers a one-stop shop in terms of a climate deal as such a deal would enable the entity to deliver a significant amount of carbon mitigation, with only one counterparty, rather than partners needing to negotiate with a multitude of different electricity generation companies.
Through embarking on a 15-year roadmap to transition, Eskom will be shutting down 22 GW of coal-fired capacity and replacing that with low or no-carbon sources.
South Africa will need to build about 60 GW of new capacity, and between 8 000 km and 10 000 km of new transmission lines, while simultaneously installing smart meters within Eskom’s distribution grid.
The electricity grid will also need to be strengthened to accommodate embedded generation and bi-directional metering, which will allow people with rooftop solar installations to get credits when they feed excess electricity into the grid.
“There is an enormous amount of work that is going on that is not only related to decarbonisation, but also relates to the energy revolution that is currently taking place all over the world. And that requires money,” De Ruyter states.
Plans that have been put forward are aligned to the Integrated Resource Plan 2019, and De Ruyter is hopeful that COP26 will deliver such a plan for South Africa.
Concerns relating to the just energy transition are “well-founded” and provide an opportunity to address, for example, coal miners’ concerns by “visibly creating an alternative future that is critically important to the success of the transition”.
However, critical to enabling this success will be a complementary suite of policies that support the just energy transition, while also integrating fiscal, energy, environmental and industrial policy.
De Ruyter mentions that plans to decommission Eskom’s coal-fired power stations, either through repurposing them or enabling an alternative fuel stock, are progressing well, as a part of the transition in the interim.
Komati power station, for example, is “making very good progress” in installing a pilot-scale agricultural facility that will offer electricity, while enabling water-wise cultivation of food at an affordable cost.
This route allows an opportunity to create a “third life” for the station, while preserving as many jobs as possible.
De Ruyter spoke during a keynote address at a COP26-focused discussion hosted by Enlit-Africa.