South Africa will need to use gas as a “very solid bridge” to ensure a just and inclusive transition to a low-carbon economy, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Business School professor Maurice Radebe has said.
The feedstock's acting as a bridge, he explained during a presentation at the Enlit Africa conference on June 8, is feasible when one considers that gas has 55% less emissions than coal.
Gas, he added, can also be used to help provide baseload electricity requirements throughout the journey to a low-carbon economy, as it can assist when renewable energies fall short due to the time of day, or even seasonal impacts.
This is critical, he stressed, especially considering that “climate change is an existential threat to mankind”.
All forms of gas - liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas and others - will play a role, Radebe noted, as he provided details about South Africa’s gas reserves, which can be used for the benefit of the local economy.
Further, a gas economy could also create jobs that could be lost when the country moves away from predominantly using coal resources and, in that way, ensure that South Africa “becomes inclusive and promotes economic growth in the country”.
Using gas as a bridge to a low-carbon economy, he noted, would also ensure energy security.
GE Gas Power’s Brian Gutkenech echoed Radebe’s sentiments, but added that it was also the “dispatchability” of gas that made it a prominent feature of South Africa’s energy transition.
The ability to turn it on and off as and when needed, regardless of weather conditions, can help to play an important role in ensuring the resilience of the power system, while simultaneously also avoiding load-shedding events.
Gutkenech noted that gas also provided an important backbone during the transition period, as its flexibility to accommodate various renewables was a key feature as it allowed people to “take full advantage” of the zero-carbon renewable resource.
Given this flexibility and the fact that its emissions are half that of coal, he agreed that gas could be a bridge for South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon economy. He stated that the pathways to decarbonise that this route could provide were “what’s really exciting”.
“It’s because of these pathways to decarbonise gas that I see gas as more of a destination in providing that gradual power we need in the long-term in a low-carbon environment,” he commented.
“So as much as we embrace renewables, there is a need to add, with those renewables, dispatchable and dependable power sources that are as low-carbon as possible, with an opportunity to transition being really key to minimising carbon emissions from the power sector,” Gutkenech noted.
However, Radebe stressed that government’s role would be critical in ensuring that South Africa had a regulatory and legislative framework that was supportive, encouraging and conducive to investment – all of which are critical for the creation of employment, among others.
The government is already working on a Gas Masterplan draft, and Radebe avers that should government facilitate this core gas masterplan for the country, government should consider doing so for the whole of Southern Africa, “in an effort to aggregate the whole gas demand for the region in order to develop a real gas industry for investors”.
However, to achieve this, the Southern African region would need to harness skills, technology, financial resources and use local resources while ensuring local empowerment to make sure that the region moved forward.