Our Burning Planet


A just transition is the only solution to South Africa’s energy crisis, says Andre de Ruyter

A just transition is the only solution to South Africa’s energy crisis, says Andre de Ruyter
From left: Daily Maverick journalist Ethan van Diemen, CEO of Bambili Energy Zanele Mbatha and Eskom CEO André de Ruyter discuss renewable energy solutions and how Eskom can achieve its mandate to power the country, at Daily Maverick's The Gathering. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

A panel addressing the country’s energy security crisis kicked off Daily Maverick’s flagship event, The Gathering, where the Eskom CEO clearly stated that the just transition was the only solution to South Africa’s crisis, adding that it also offers a boost to the economy and addresses environmental concerns.

‘In my mind, the opportunity is tangible; I can see no other opportunity to drive economic growth, to solve for energy security, to solve our environmental problems, to create employment, than by embarking on this just energy transition. If we don’t do this, what else? I don’t know. If we don’t do this then we would have lost an opportunity,” Eskom group CEO André de Ruyter said at the Daily Maverick’s flagship event, The Gathering, at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Thursday morning. 

He made the remarks during a panel discussion hosted by journalist and consultant Karen Allen and joined by Zanele Mbatha, CEO of Bambili Energy, which focuses on hydrogen and clean fuel generation, as well as Daily Maverick’s Our Burning Planet journalist Ethan van Diemen. 

The panel, “Energy; Beyond Eskom”, kicked off the event, answering questions such as how to address the elongated bouts of rolling blackouts and what those solutions are, as well as delving into renewable energy sources. 

“When a technology has reached the end of its life, it doesn’t make sense to continue to perpetuate it; the Stone Age didn’t end because of a lack of stones!” said De Ruyter to a laughing and clapping crowd in an auditorium filled to near capacity. “I don’t think that the fact that we have coal means that we should continue to burn coal… that’s a fallacy.” 

The comments come as South Africa faces its longest bouts of rolling blackouts in a year. The situation has been worsened by Eskom’s depletion of its diesel budget, pushing load shedding to Stage 5 on Sunday. Although 50 million litres of diesel have been allocated to the power utility from PetroSA to buffer against heightened blackouts. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Found: Fifty million litres of diesel for fifteen days of relief – but source of funding future supplies remains uncertain

At the recent global climate negotiations, the 27th Congress of the Parties (COP27), South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Investment Plan shone brightly as a competitive blueprint for how developing countries can transition from coal dependency towards cleaner energy sources such as renewables. 

The plan seeks to decarbonise South Africa through the electricity sector, the development of electric vehicles and expanding the country’s green hydrogen sector. Implementation of the plan requires R1.5-trillion over the next five years. 

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“If you look at our comparative advantage with renewable resources, our worst solar resources are better than the best resources in Germany. Our wind resources are among the best in the world,” De Ruyter said. “The one big thing about sun and wind is that it cannot be stolen, first of all. And secondly, it cannot be exported to China to be beneficiated there.” 

‘Blessed with sunshine’

Mbatha, of Bambili Energy, said that as the country transitions it should be all about an energy mix that incorporates renewable energy but does not leave the grid behind. 

“The reality is that some of the technologies we are talking about are rather expensive and when we speak to customers it’s very clear that as much as they want to move towards renewables, the issue of cost is utmost on their mind,” said Mbatha. 

“We need hydrogen because South Africa is blessed with incredible sunshine where we can make hydrogen at globally competitive rates that the exporting and domestic use of hydrogen will complement that energy mix that is required for the country.”

Mbatha added that a successful energy mix also requires a conversation about trust between the public and private sectors. 

De Ruyter said that such conversations and action on the just transition needed to be done urgently, adding that there needed to be the removal of policy obstacles in order to achieve a transition that not only addressed energy security, but also the needs of the people most affected. 

Former BBC foreign correspondent Karen Allen hosts a panel at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering on 24 November 2022. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Van Diemen, who has just returned from the COP27 negotiations in Egypt, said there was a great disconnect between the high-level climate talks and those living in the mining towns and along the coal value chain where more than 120,000 jobs are threatened by a shift away from coal dependency. 

“[Mine workers and those along the coal value chain] are more concerned about aspects of their livelihoods being secured than focusing on renewable energy, decarbonisation and energy security,” said Van Diemen. 

He added that while the plans to move away from coal have been laid and the right people put in the right places to carry that out, the implementation blueprint is lacking. 

“At various levels, we have the right leadership in the main, but where we seem to be faltering is in terms of implementation; taking these plans and the leadership that we have and driving [the just transition] forward in a very tangible way… and there certainly needs to be more accountability in that respect.” 

From left: Daily Maverick journalist Ethan van Diemen, CEO of Bambili Energy Zanele Mbatha, Eskom CEO André de Ruyter and panel host Karen Allen at The Gathering. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Indeed, plans have been extensive to ensure South Africa’s just transition and to attract funding in order to carry out that plan. In 2021, South Africa secured $8.5-billion in funding towards its plans to decarbonise, some of which is being used towards decommissioning Komati Power Station, as well as  reskilling and upskilling workers to equip them with renewable energy skills. 

De Ruyter said Eskom is also replicating solar and wind training facilities at Komati, for which they received R48-million in grant funding from the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet. The utility had also received €10-million from Germany investment institution KFW to develop a similar facility at Grootvlei Power Station, which is the next to retire. 

“We’ve got to weigh up the greater good and rapidly remove obstacles that will enable us to remove the bigger problem, which is energy security.” DM/OBP

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andrew Grant says:

    A lot of capital input for the just transition could continue to come from the private sector by putting out huge contracts for solar and wind power and even hydro at dams where it is feasible and for battery backup such as along escarpments. Battery backup could also be put out to tender. The transmission up-grades could also utilise private tenders as long as all these tenders are fully transparent so that the most cost effective tenders are approved and no back hand bribes are possible – not an easy task it seems from our past- both recent and more distant BUT POSSIBLE.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    All very possible and more … but ANC.

  • Peter Smith says:

    South Africa is blessed with minerals and renewable resources. We have the unique advantage to have twice the sun energy of Europe. But most importantly, the solar energy difference between winter and summer is only 15% compared to 80% for Europe. We should mine the sun, wind and hydro to generate green hydrogen that can be exported to Europe during their 4 winter months. Previously Europe used gas during this period. This is a great opportunity for SA but Namibia has already won the first projects. If the government does not move on this, this will go elsewhere to countries such as Egypt that have functioning infrastructure and excellent solar resources.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    All three speakers and the host were a great start to a brilliant day at the DM “gathering”. All panelists spoke with knowledge and conviction and it certainly gave me some hope for the future of SA and all its people. If only there had been more audience and interest from other race groups (rate/ taxpayers or not) as a successful outcome for this country affects and concerns us all.

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