Energy Troubles Ahead: De Ruyter’s Advice to Western Cape’s Winde

To address electricity shortages and bolster the regional economy, South Africa’s only opposition-led province is planning to facilitate the construction of almost 6GW of power generation capacity. The Western Cape aims to add as much as 750MW of supply by 2025 and reach 5,700MW by 2035, which should be sufficient to meet demand as the provincial economy expands, according to Premier Alan Winde, a member of the DA. This comes as state-owned utility Eskom, which generates over 90% of the nation’s electricity, has been forced to implement rotational blackouts since 2008, with outages currently at record levels.

Winde met with Eskom’s former CEO Andre de Ruyter in December, shortly after he resigned, to seek advice on how the province should approach energy provision. The outgoing CEO suggested that the province should become independent as soon as possible as there is big trouble ahead. Winde has since put a team together to expedite larger generation projects and intends to assist municipalities in boosting their power supply with a budget that will be announced in mid-March. The World Bank is also providing an adviser to help shape the plans.

One of the key challenges for South Africa’s power system is its inadequate transmission grid. The Western Cape government has yet to determine which transmission options will work best and in what combination, according to Winde. The province’s plans will also have to take into account its growing population, which is projected to hit 8 million in the next six years.

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The ANC has targeted a $250 billion green hydrogen industry by 2050 as part of long-term plans to reduce the nation’s reliance on coal and use cleaner technologies. Some of those plans include reviving a mothballed ArcelorMittal South Africa steel plant in Saldanha to utilize the fuel. Sasol has also said it would potentially accelerate its own plans to develop and export green hydrogen to meet growing demand from Europe. However, Winde emphasizes that a green hydrogen industry, which is dependent on the development of renewable energy, must benefit the local economy. Eskom estimates that the nation requires 53 gigawatts of clean energy capacity by 2032 to make up for coal plant closures and reach a secure level of supply.

“You can’t have hydrogen exports to Europe and load shedding in South Africa,” Winde said, using the local term for blackouts. “I mean, the citizens will just burn everything down.”

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