Is South Africa ready to embrace solar energy?

By Jesse Preyser

Image source, Tom Podmore
Caption for the image

South Africa is home to some of the most favorable conditions for solar energy.

South Africa’s main source of electricity is still coal, despite many places having more than 2,500 hours sunshine per year.

South Africa would have to use the sun for more than 1,500 hours per year, compared to the UK’s average of 1,500.

The energy supply landscape could undergo dramatic changes over the coming decade.

In June it emerged that South Africa’s state power utility Eskom, Africa’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, is putting forward a $10bn (£7.4bn) plan to close the vast majority of its coal-fired power stations by 2050 and embrace renewable energy.

During the COP26 Climate Summit, France, US, EU and UK pledged $8.5bn in the next five year to South Africa’s large plan to be green.

Eskom’s chief executive André de Ruyter says the COP26 announcement will enable South Africa to meet its “new and ambitious” targets.

However, many people are unsure if Eskom has the ability to deliver this kind of transformation.

This company has $27bn of debt, which is weighing on its finances and limiting investment in its infrastructure. In the United States, rolling blackouts are known as load-shedding.

There is no doubt that something must be done. The Global Carbon Atlas reports that South Africa is 12th largest carbon dioxide emitter on the planet and 13th most emission in Africa.

Eskom claims that it would require more than $20 billion to ensure its old coal plants are compliant with South Africa’s emissions regulations.

Although it seems obvious that there will be some move towards renewables, industry insiders believe Mr de Ruyter is being ambitious.

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Sharief Harris is the head of development for Red Rocket Energy. A private green energy company, Eskom says that in order to transition to renewable energy, Eskom must first address its financial and infrastructure problems.

Harris also pointed out that Eskom would need more money for connecting the solar and wind farms to its electricity network, in addition to building them.

He states that “serious upgrades will be needed to the electricity grid to connect any capacity, and $10bn won’t be enough.”

This is what the power house has admitted to. Recent estimatesIt would require $35bn in the next fifteen years to transition successfully to renewable energy.

We hope that this will create a ripple effect of the $8.5bn investment made by Europe and the USA, encouraging private foreign investment.

In the meantime, South Africa might be assisted by independent energy businesses to transform its energy system into a more sustainable one.

The growth of the South African solar industry was hampered by restrictions on private power generation. However, this year’s regulation changes allowed commercial power companies to construct power plants that can reach 100 megawatts. An equivalent plant of this size could power approximately 6,500 households.

Red Rocket currently operates two solar power plants in Africa. They are planning expansion.

Another project that the company helped to build was the 75 megawatt Kathu solar power plant located in South Africa’s Northern Cape.

It covers 800 hectares and can generate enough electricity to power 73,000 homes.

South Africa, however, will require hundreds of more solar power plants if it wants to reduce its dependence on coal.

Political challenges are another major obstacle to the transition to solar. There are many questions about whether the transition to solar is good for the workforce in a country that has an unemployment rate of 34%.

Gwede Mantashe (South Africa’s Energy Minister) has expressed concern about the potential job loss due to the closure of several coal-fired power plants. Gwede Mantashe called the switching to solar “economic suicide”.

Eskom has disputed this assertion, and Mr De Ruyter claims that the deployment of solar infrastructure in South Africa could create more than 300,000.

To address these concerns, countries that invest in South Africa’s Green Transition have established a Task Force to establish “green jobs and quality jobs”.

The jobs created by solar energy are difficult to contrast with those generated by coal power. While coal power stations offer job opportunities for the entire facility’s life span, renewable technologies create fewer jobs once it is operational.

However, stabler energy supplies would help the economy and encourage foreign investment. This would also be good news for jobs.

In anticipation of additional investment, the Solar Green Academy has seen a rise in interest in its courses. It has five centres in South Africa. For those who want to make a career out of the solar energy sector, this academy offers technical training.

According to Amanda Dzivhani, Academy spokesperson for solar energy, “solar is becoming more important” because of the ability to provide job opportunities and opportunities to others.


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