Four vastly different energy transition scenarios, from very ambitious to the least ambitious, were posited by management advisory Africa International Advisors integrated energy practice leader Henry Gilfillan this week.
The four scenarios, presented during a webinar on hydrogen, gas and renewables on May 26, included one in which the energy status quo, especially in South Africa, changes little.
In this “nowhere slowly” scenario, he explained, Southern African States will continue to rely heavily on hydrocarbons for the bulk of their electricity production going into the future, thereby almost certainly ensuring they will not meet net carbon zero by 2050, as envisaged by the Paris Climate Agreement.
There will also be low regional integration with this scenario, which will be supplemented by renewable energies.
The realisation of this scenario will mean the inability of large power utilities to properly function – a dilemma currently facing South African utility Eskom.
At the same time, this scenario will also be driven by the price of hydrocarbons globally, he said, adding that another driving factor would be natural gas volumes increasing to such an extent that there is no need for the big gas producers in Mozambique to drive any demand in the region.
“They can monetise that gas quite successfully in the international market [and], as a consequence, there is no real driver, neither from a pull or push side for regional integration, and at the same time there is a fairly slow transition to renewables or low-carbon energy,” said Gilfillan.
This scenario, he said, is not much different from the current energy situation in the region and will definitely not result in the region achieving net-zero by 2050, or 2060 even.
GAS, HYDRO & NUCLEAR
In a second scenario, the Mozambican gasfields plays a major role in developing a Southern African gas economy that will lead to higher levels of regional energy integration, but still impede the region’s alignment to net zero by 2050.
In this case, there will still be strong utilities and a certain degree of regional institutions that can drive gas and regional integration of it, said Gilfillan.
Also, with this scenario, it is envisaged that some coal-fired power stations will be converted to run on gas, and some industrial coal consumers will also switch over to gas – driving a regional gas economy, he suggested.
In a third scenario, Southern Africa’s energy will be derived from the bolstering of large hydropower and nuclear power plants, supplemented by renewable energy, storage and blue and green hydrogen.
With this scenario, there will be a higher level of energy transition as compared to the previous two scenarios and a greater move towards achieving net zero, at least between 2050 and 2060.
There are two ways this “Congo Rapids” scenario could play out, said Gilfillan.
The increased hydropower and nuclear, he said, would be driven by big utilities, strong regional institutions and a degree of central planning.
But at the same time, Gilfillan says the development of non-hydro renewables, such as solar and wind, as well as storage, will slow down.
As a consequence, he said, there will be the development, for instance, of projects including and similar to the Grand Inga hydro project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and further development of hydro projects on the Zambezi.
“There will also be further investment in nuclear energy in Southern Africa,” said Gilfillan.
This scenario is predicated on utility-strong institutions and a strong degree of funding that goes to these institutions to drive the faster decarbonisation, and potentially involves South Africa becoming a significant player in the hydrogen economy.
In the fourth “sunshine in a bottle” scenario, regional energy transition in Southern Africa will be driven not by central utilities that will likely find it difficult to adapt to the new energy economy, but instead by a very rapid and continued advance in the reduction of costing for renewables and storage.
This will enable distributed generation and essentially a breaking up of the current big power generation and distribution infrastructure, said Gilfillan.
“Together with this, there will be the development of an independent market for the power that develops [from this],” he said.
Both of the last two scenarios involve significant integration of hydrogen into the mix and, while there will be definite moves towards carbon net zero targets with the hydrogen and nuclear model, the scenario will also lead to high levels of regional integration.
Conversely, the renewables scenario will lead to low levels of regional integration.