South Africa’s energy sector needs to broadly embrace a just energy transition to ensure it improves energy security and stability, as well as meets its obligations towards mitigating climate change, says nonprofit economic research institution Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies senior economist Gaylor Montmasson-Clair.
He says a fair and equitable energy transition away from fossil fuels, and coal in particular, and towards renewable energy and other forms of less carbon intensive energy, needs to embrace three key dynamics.
These three dynamics are at various stages of development, the first of which is energy security. In South Africa, he says, this has been a challenge for “quite some time”.
The second dynamic is ensuring South Africa’s electricity system is sustainable, primarily from an environmental perspective.
This, says Montmasson-Clair, means achieving goals around South Africa’s low-carbon transition, particularly ensuring the country achieves a net zero system in terms of carbon emissions by 2050.
The third dynamic is to ensure any energy transition is “just and inclusive”, he says.
Taking these three dimensions into account, Montmasson-Clair posits that going forward, South Africa ideally requires a mix of renewable energy technologies and gas, as these are also the least cost approaches. “We also need to ensure that, along with Eskom, we unlock the potential of independent power producers, as well as others, such as individual households which may have solar panels on their roofs.”
In terms of Eskom, he says the utility needs to improve its sustainability as it remains the monopoly for some time to come, and will also be at the centre of the energy transition. “The utility needs to switch from coal to renewables. We cannot leave renewables solely for the private sector while Eskom deals primarily with coal generation.”
As such, Montmasson-Clair posits that Eskom needs to start investing more in renewable energy.
In terms of a just transition, such a move would need to ensure the workforce in the fossil fuel energy sector, especially at Eskom coal-fired power stations, is able to mostly secure new so-called “green energy” jobs in the future energy sector, thereby mitigating extensive job losses.
He points out that, even globally, energy transitions are still in the early stages, with fossil fuels still providing about 85% of global electricity generation.
He notes, however, that there is an immediate drive to limit coal projects and then also to limit other fossil fuel projects going forward. “This is sensible in that we now have, certainly for electricity, technologies that are much better and cheaper to implement than coal.”