The Government’s Pledge to Renewable Energy
As South Africa grapples with a daunting load shedding crisis, a silver lining emerges in the form of the government’s determined drive to fast-track renewable energy projects. Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment Minister, Barbara Creecy, shed light on this matter during the Department’s 2023/24 budget vote session in Parliament.
The Bright Prospects of Solar and Wind Energy
“Our nation is striving to alleviate the load shedding problem. And on this path, we have a project pipeline in our Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) segment, boasting a massive 9,789 MW capacity from renewable energy proposals,” Minister Creecy conveyed with a positive tone. Of these potential energy sources, a substantial portion of the pie – 2,899 MW, to be precise – belongs to solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies, while wind energy facilities contribute an impressive 6,890 MW.
Battery Storage Systems and Infrastructure Enhancements
Furthermore, a notable number of these project applications feature integrated battery energy storage systems. This move bodes well for stable power generation as it dovetails with necessary upgrades to the existing transmission and distribution infrastructure. “We are committed to fast-tracking these projects by cutting bureaucratic hurdles,” Creecy assured, mentioning a decrease in decision-making timeframes from 107 days to a swift 57 days.
Addressing Grid Capacity and Load Shedding Concerns
However, it is crucial to address the elephant in the room – grid capacity. As the Minister rightly pointed out, this issue poses a significant challenge to rapidly escalating the country’s energy transition. “There is a unanimous agreement among all stakeholders – government, businesses, labour and civil society – that enhancing grid capacity is a national priority to not only support our transition efforts but also provide a short-term remedy to the persistent load shedding issue,” Creecy emphasized.
In fact, this urgency is so palpable that the Department is giving priority to 15 EIA applications directly related to transmission and distribution infrastructure enhancements.
The Struggle Between Aging Coal Power Stations and Load Shedding
Recent concerns around prolonging the operational life of aging coal-fired power stations amidst the load shedding crisis has made headlines. Creecy took a clear stance on this, “Our task is twofold – to combat both load shedding and climate change. The solution isn’t to pick one over the other.”
The Department aims to employ modeling tools to strike a balance in the decommissioning schedule, ensuring energy security while maintaining commitment to climate change objectives and air quality enhancement.
Emphasizing Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation
Quoting from the Sixth-Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Minister acknowledged the unprecedented rate of global warming. She also pointed out the extensive damage and loss Africa endures due to climate change.
However, she reassured that the country’s mitigation and adaptation strategies are well advanced. “We’ve developed emission reduction goals for key sectors of the economy and are working on fair allocation of these targets,” Creecy stated. There is also a plan to roll out carbon budget regulations to ensure smooth processing of industry’s climate change mitigation strategies.
National Climate Change and Weather Modernization Efforts
As part of climate change management, the Department is assisting 44 district municipalities with their climate change plans. This initiative is in line with the proposed Climate Change Bill that Parliament is currently finalizing.
Additionally, Creecy announced the South African Weather Service’s (SAWS) steps towards modernizing and automating its data collection processes. This improvement aims to mitigate the impact of load shedding on data gathering and thereby enhances the accuracy of weather forecasts.
“Better data collection will enable us to warn the public about extreme weather events timely, preserving lives and livelihoods,” she concluded, asserting a hopeful vision for the future.