Business Maverick

INVESTORS SEE RED

Mantashe says nuclear is the ‘saviour’ while Ramaphosa punts hydrogen and green energy 

Minister Gwede Mantashe. (Photo: Freddy Mavunda / Business Day)
By Ed Stoddard
07 Oct 2021 44

Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe told a mining conference on Thursday that nuclear was the ‘saviour for decarbonisation’ while reiterating that South Africa needed to ‘manage’ its reduction in coal use. Meanwhile, President Cyril Ramaphosa was punting green energy. This kind of mixed messaging will only make investors see red. 

Mantashe came out swinging at the online Joburg Mining Indaba, rising to the defence of nuclear and coal just weeks ahead of the next big UN climate conference, which is being held as global food prices soar in the face of extreme weather events across the world. 

In fairness to the minister, South Africa is not going to close down its coal-fired power stations next week, even if Eskom has been found to be the most polluting power company in the world. History and geology have conspired to make South Africa dependent on fossil fuel for the immediate future. Coal prices have even surged to record highs because of shortages in China — which has also pledged not to fund new coal power stations abroad, a policy that could starve South Africa of capital for such projects as commercial banks also stop financing coal. 

Green energy clearly has a bright future under South Africa’s sunny skies, but the minister keeps shrouding the forecast with a cloudy vision. 

“I am not saying coal forever… I am saying let’s manage our transition step by step rather than being emotional,” Mantashe told the conference, organised by Resources4Africa.  

“We are asking investors to partner with us as we seek to move from a high carbon to a low carbon environment,” he said. That all sounds reasonable, but on green issues, Mantashe comes across as unconvincing. His scepticism of renewables remains barely disguised. 

He again held up nuclear, which is low carbon but clearly unaffordable for the fiscal train wreck that is South Africa. And any deal that involved, say, Russia, should be treated as radioactive because of the corruption that would almost certainly taint it. There is a reason why former president Jacob Zuma of all people was so keen on a nuclear deal with Moscow. 

“Nuclear is going to be the saviour … because renewables have no baseload,” Mantashe said as he outlined his vision of decarbonisation. “The quickest (route) is going to be nuclear.” 

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of solar, wind or surf — three items that South Africa has no shortage of. 

Mantashe went on — in response to a question about his view on the possible refunding of Eskom with soft financing to spur green power — to perplexingly say that: “I’m suspicious of any problem that is based on money”. 

“We should not collapse our economy because we agreed to green funding,” he said. 

So, rather do a nuclear deal and finally break the Treasury. That is a problem “based on money” that should arouse suspicion. 

Business Maverick has been reliably told that climate envoys were rattled by his remarks.

Meanwhile, at the Sandton Convention Centre, the president on Thursday was outlining a vision of green hydrogen. 

“One of the new frontiers of infrastructure development is green energy, which has the potential not only to drive industrialisation, but to establish a whole new industrial reality,” Ramaphosa told the Sustainable Infrastructure Development Symposium. 

He spoke of a “… future where tens of gigawatts of renewable energy feed electrolysers at massive scale, producing the hydrogen powerfuels of the future. We stand ready to be a major exporter in this market, to use hydrogen to rapidly decarbonise our existing industries, and attract industrial investment from across the globe seeking to meet new standards of green power in the production process.” 

Talk about mixed messaging. And all this hot air is not going to attract investors who once again will be left scratching their heads.  OBP/BM

 

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Absa OBP

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All Comments 44

  • So who do you believe? Definitely no one from the anc!
    The new finance minister recently made some investment-friendly comments about reducing red tape, ensuring reliable energy supply, etc. He may have the best intentions, but how does anyone begin to believe him, given the powers that be around him?

    • Is it possible for him to appear any weaker? Having appointed people to his cabinet in order to p.acify the other sie, he now has to deal with the fallout from idiots and incompetents. He deserves this mess he has self-created.

      • Agree. This BS of trying to unite the ANC is pathetic, idiotic and laughable. The ANC have to split. I would like to think that the one faction would like to see a good clean government working for the people. (I may be too optimistic here) The RET faction are downright criminals, in it to loot and steal and plunder. There simply cannot be any unity between these 2 groups – ever.

  • Mantashe the dinosaur. How on earth is he in a position that is so dynamic? Surely it actually needs someone with a brain and a future forward understanding? Oh, wait, cadre.

  • Mixed messages indeed. We need quick build low-carbon investments for the domestic economy now. Long-term big projects that can earn us forex in a post-carbon world are a better bet than long-term big projects that cost us more than we can afford.

    • I completely agree… and would only add that energy efficiency (and energy management) investments are – by far – the least risky, quickest low-carbon and highest ROI (= no regrets) investments … these are the cinderellas at the ball…

  • We are surely in a bind. And not just because we have divided politicians pointing in different policy directions. Given the extent to which coal power is going to be reduced in the future, either through the decommissioning of ageing and poorly maintained coal stations or the imposition of punitive carbon taxes, the only base-load solution is nuclear. But even nuclear builds untainted by corruption have very high upfront costs (they do have the big plus of low running costs, low pollution and long life spans) so the real question is whether or not such build costs can be financed over the long operating life spans of nuclear plants. The hydrogen solutions that CR is referring to are fairly new technologies, untested at scale and are still unable to provide baseload power (they are showing great promise though). Solar and wind (and surf I now hear) are fine where consistent base-load is not required with (very expensive) storage for back-up. Our future power solution is going to require a mixed blend of sources.

    • LNG based gas generation would be a flexible option well suited to supporting renewables. If done on a large scale with suffucient state support this would be cost effective, flexible and adaptable option with comparatively low initial capital outlay.

  • Thank goodness Uncle Gweezy can now retire on a ministerial pension, so we can move on to fix the damage his tenure as the power behind our democratically governing representatives can begin. Let’s just hope it happens soon.

    • In the face of real and pressing issues we throw out stuff like smart cities, SA becoming the leader in hydrogen and the 4th IR, and no doubt we’ll soon be off to the moon with basic I come grants.

      Our politicians have totally lost the plot.

  • The extended stay in Russia by our Deputy President seems to coincide with the call and renewed support for additional nuclear power to save South Africa from its energy crisis.
    No mention is made of the cost to decomission a nuclear power e.g. Koeberg, when it is beyond its design/economical life, which is not too many years in the future.
    What provision is being made for these costs, other than a public funded bailout?
    How about these costs being factored in and shown as a separate line item when costing any nuclear power station build??
    Just saying

    • Not seems Gregory – does.
      The Russians have already paid the necessary cadre bribes, not expecting Ramaphosa to dislodge Zuma.
      Not only have South African politicians been summoned to Moscow on “please explain” missions, but you may recall the Russians sent a heavy delegation out to South Africa.
      Watch this space, as they say – those old-school Soviet paymasters get their pound of flesh one way or another.

  • I would suggest that the honourable Minister is unhinged, were it not that our Cabinet apparently cannot hold up without him (while ignoring abject neglect of his responsibilities within the party). In the face of an opportunity to pivot our energy system with international support and the cheapest capital [potentially] available to South Africa, Mantashe remains rooted in the previous century.
    For a man whose sentimental attachment to both coal (along with all things diggable) and nuclear power is by now world-renowned, the suggestion that the push for radical transformation of our energy system is “emotional” might kindly be ascribed to projection. Rhetorically it’s a savvy move: When you have no rational foundation for what you espouse, portray the dispute as personal and emotional – projecting the irrationality onto any who dissent (while refusing to conduct integrated energy planning informed by science and technological progress – in defiance of the Energy Act of 2008).

    • The credibility of our President, who misguidedly handed the energy portfolio to an old-school Minister of Mineral Resources (within which corruption and incompetence remain rife) a few years ago, increasingly hinges on whether Ramaphosa has the leadership (or commitment to Constitutional responsibilities) to arrest the damage thus done – to liberate the development of our energy system from a Minister who can’t even implement a mining cadaster, but is happy to undermine any initiatives that may weaken his own power-base, regardless of costs or consequences for those desperately in need of electricity.
      This is thus an appeal to allow Mantashe (despite the convenience of his wearing many hats: ANC, SACP, state custodian of our mineral resources…) to become truly un-hinged: most especially from urgent and rational deliberations of how we finance a sustainable energy system that serves the majority of South Africans into the future.

  • Whatever we go for must have modelling done for all circumstances, no wind, no sun, no rain etcetera. Got to go as load shedding starting at 9pm.

  • Even if nuclear is the way forward there is no way that we should be getting into bed with the Russians. There should be very many renewable options in SA to be explored. Mantashe needs to go.

  • Mantashe has a point, green is way overrated. It is politically sexy and the likes of Germany can afford far more expensive energy (next time you buy a German car or dishwasher remember who pays for it, yes you pay a part). There are however no silver bullets.

    Like with the left and the right the battle lines are drawn. Neither is going to convince the other. One thing is though sure we will pay for it either way! The only question do we pay more? Or much more?

  • If the government gave the go ahead today for the construction of a new nuclear power station it would take 15 years at least before the first watt of electricity is generated. And that would be from a plant designed at least 20 years ago. It would have a designed life of about 50 years. So in 2085 we could be generating power from a system designed in 2000. Seriously!

    • Lol! But seriously though, isn’t it sad that the taxpayer has come to be thinking like this! We no longer trust ONE thing that comes out the mouth of an ANC politician …….not one! And I don’t think I’m alone in this. A sad day indeed.

  • Uncle Gwede is correct.. Nuclear is the saviour…. For the ANC.. Buy it from the Russians, get the generous Commission, start paying anc salaries again.. Easy peasy…

  • For the second time I find myself siding with Mr Mantashe, in principle at least. Coal and nuclear are much more dependable and reliable, yes there is a tradeoff with byproducts but that’s far much better than having a green unreliable grid that’s expensive for most.

    I’m a huge fan of green technology, so much so that I’ve just completed a solar installation on my second property and upgraded the installation in my primary residence. For private residents I’m an advocate for green technology, no so much because of the nonsensical “climate crisis” but to reduce my exposure to the Eskom and government problem.

    We are borrowing to fund an unreliable energy source that will only enrich the first world countries selling it, while leaving us with huge debts we’ll never afford to pay because of the blackouts that will keep the lights of when there’s no wind or sunlight.

    • With all due respect.
      The government is bankrupt so would be reckless for it to finance new nuclear or coal. And South Africa’s climate is perfect for reliable wind and power.
      But well done for doing what you’re doing with your properties.

    • Salatiso:

      I have learnt my lesson – do not rely on the ANC. When I redo my smart grid at the factory it will rely on Eskom for only a little energy and only when it suits me. Why? Because Eskom is unreliable and the second most expensive option available to me at the factory.

  • Mantashe is truly “gifted”when it comes to his ability to torture truth and logic! Listening to his jumble of incoherent, non-sensible crap is a guaranteed migraine.

    • It’s what happens when someone was promoted significantly above their level of competence. In this particular case it happened quite a few decades ago.

      • Not a single ANC politician is employable in the private sector at even 25% of their government salaries. They are all completely out of depth. They literally have no clue what they are doing.

  • I’m not qualified to comment on which energy/combinations are best. I am just sad that the ANC seem absolutely incapable of communicating one message that isn’t neutralized or negated by another cadre either at the same time or shortly afterwards…

  • When Gweezy is saying he distrusts anything based on money, in reality he is saying,

    “Once the funding is in place, and if we start from that premise, then there is no scope for me, or the ANC as an organisation, to cream off billions. This I find unacceptable.”

  • Sounds like Mantashe is pushing a last gasp attempt to bring a multi-billion dollar deal to account so that he & his fellow cadre deployees can retire with decent golden handshakes & pensions, which won’t happen with his party in its current bankrupt state! I think he would take Chernobyl if it meant they all get one last snuffle at the trough!

  • Based on the way Mantashe handled the Powership deal, it seems that his decisions have little to do with the production of electricity and a LOT to do with the production of “commissions.” Nuclear must be the biggest trough to feed from, which is why JZ was so desperate to do a deal with Putin.

  • Unfortunately surf or wave power generation is forecasted to make an insignificant contribution to the generation mix of even the most optimally located countries as long term as 2040. I wish it weren’t the case but the marine environment is incredibly tough on electro-mechanical devices.

    Although South Africa has abundant wave power resources it is unrealistic to suggest that these will be harnessed on a nation level scale or even in the order of 100 MWs by 2030. I am only aware of one wave energy converter (WEC) that has reached MW scale for testing which is the Pelamis device. The company has subsequently shut down in 2014.