South Africa

RAMOKGOPA'S PLAN ANALYSIS

Extending life of ageing coal-fired stations – anti-renewables policy incoherence could cost trillions

Extending life of ageing coal-fired stations – anti-renewables policy incoherence could cost trillions
Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa visits Hendrina Power Station on 30 March 2023. (Photo: GCIS)

Will the Cabinet approve Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s preference for extending the life of our increasingly costly, ageing and polluting coal-fired power stations?

A week of turmoil, policy flip-flops and a return to higher levels of load shedding could have ended differently — it could have ended with a clear-cut plan by the minister of electricity to reassure a jittery nation that a practical solution is on hand. He could have built on the President’s July 2022 strategic breakthrough that prioritised the energy transition from a coal-based economy to a renewables-based economy.

Instead, in his long press conference on Thursday, the minister of electricity made bold and costly statements about extending the life of SA’s fleet of ageing coal-fired power stations. He made it clear this was just an option and that the Cabinet would make the final decision. But it was clear from his tone and emphasis that his preference is to extend the life of our ageing fleet of coal-fired power stations. We need to assess the implications of this option, which he will present to the Cabinet.  

If the Cabinet agrees with his position, then this will mean contradicting the following policies: 

  • The Cabinet-approved Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2019 (which has clear target dates for closing power stations);
  • The Cabinet-approved National Infrastructure Plan 2050(NIP 2050) that he himself championed as head of Infrastructure SA and which is fairly clear about the role of renewables;
  • The central thrust of the Energy Action Plan (EAP), which includes approvals for 30GW of renewables with no reference to extending the life of coal-fired power plants;
  • The Cabinet-approved Nationally Determined Contribution to global climate agreements; and
  • The Budget Speech by the minister of finance that envisages no future investments in generation and a shift towards investing in transmission.

Ramokgopa’s clear preference for extending the life of the plants could jeopardise the R130-billion investment by international donors that was factored into the Cabinet-approved Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET-IP) that envisages an investment programme of R1.5-trillion over the next five years. 

This plan envisages replacing costly coal-fired power plants with much cheaper renewable energy infrastructures. Further, if the Cabinet agrees with Ramokgopa’s conclusions, this would send a signal that South Africa plans on being excluded from international markets that are introducing carbon-border taxes aimed, in particular, at preventing the import of goods from carbon-intensive economies like South Africa. 

After promulgating and then withdrawing the reporting exemption for Eskom, and then lifting the State of Disaster after a review that revealed it was not needed (repeatedly confirmed by Ramokgopa), one wondered if policy incoherence could get any worse. Well, it has. 

Ramokgopa’s preferred option means disregarding Cabinet-approved policies which has, in turn, triggered intense consternation among local and international investors who take a long-term view based on the certainties provided by solid Cabinet-approved policy frameworks. Based only on a walkabout and unsupported by the detailed technical studies that exist, we must now believe that the machines can be fixed and made to last.

Civil society rage

Unsurprisingly, his statements have also ignited veld fires of civil society rage and experienced energy experts are rolling their eyes in dismay. South African journalists cannot be fooled — the media is unlikely to buy the story that extending the life of ageing coal-fired power stations is a realistic option. Yes, they will admit, it’s good PR for winning an election in a country desperate to end load shedding, but the solution is technically and financially questionable.

Like many others before him who have tried to fix our abused and broken fleet of power stations, Ramokgopa knows he will need a lot more funding to achieve this. He says he will go to the Cabinet with a budget to motivate further funding to Eskom for capital expenditure on generation and cost-plus mines. 

To overcome resistance to providing more support to Eskom, he repeatedly insisted this means seeing this investment as in the best interests of South Africa, and not fixing Eskom’s balance sheet. This flatly contradicts the Budget Speech. National Treasury has already committed R254-billion to assist Eskom. Why would they agree to more? Where would the money come from? 

For Ramokgopa, increasing the debt-to-GDP ratio is a good bet because load shedding will be reduced, economic growth will pick up and tax revenues will rise accordingly. Sure, but what if load shedding does not reduce after all this money is spent and we are in greater debt than before? This is what National Treasury could well ask. 

He did, however, echo the call in the Budget Speech to concession out power stations to obviate the need for the state to fund the capex. Even if there were takers for these decrepit and corrupt power plants, the chances of the Tripartite Alliance approving this before an election are zero because it will be branded as privatisation. Which kicks that option far into 2024 and beyond, at the earliest.  

Most serious of all is this: it is now a proven fact that the Levelised Cost of Energy (LCOE) supplied by newly built renewable energy plants is lower than the cost of keeping our old inefficient coal-fired power plants running beyond their dead-stop dates (especially at low EAFs). This has far-reaching implications that Ramokgopa seems unaware of. 

First, there is plenty of funding available for renewables at a very low cost per KWh. There is virtually no funding available for investing in coal, especially ageing polluting coal-fired power plants — and if there is, it will be very costly. 

Second, according to the Energy Action Plan, there is 30GW of renewables in the pipeline, and if the rooftop solar strategy works, another 7.5GW could be available to households and businesses who will not then require this amount from the grid. Ten gigawatts will end load shedding, which is likely to happen in two years (especially if rooftop solar continues to grow as fast as it is now). 

The investments in fixing the machines that Ramokgopa is talking about will be massive and will only yield real results in three to five years’ time at best (even if the funds could be secured from the 2024 Budget). By then, the 30GW will be well on the way to ensuring SA has energy security, and as a decarbonising economy, we will be welcomed with open arms by carbon-sensitive international markets. 

This will be achieved at a much lower cost (without increasing the fiscal burden) with higher economic benefits (growth in exports) than what investments in an ageing and collapsing fleet of polluting coal-fired power stations could ever achieve. If the Cabinet approved this option, surely this would constitute wasteful expenditure on a truly grand scale?    

Minimum Emissions Standards

Ramokgopa’s strategy will also come up against the legal requirement that all power plants must conform to the Minimum Emissions Standards (MES) that have now been enforced via various court rulings. All power stations are now required by law to comply with the 2020 MES by 31 March 2025, including those that were given permission to postpone implementation. 

Ramokgopa is aware of this, and suggests postponing compliance while investing in pollution mitigation measures — but it is easy to see that his preference is to value growth over the environment. The only way around this constraint in order to avoid closing the plants or spending huge amounts of capex to make them MES-compliant is by changing the law. Changing environmental laws in South Africa can take years. 

It is clear that Ramokgopa has chosen to emphasise a false choice between compliance with climate targets as expressed in the Cabinet-approved NDC and keeping the lights on by extending the life of our fleet of polluting ageing coal-fired power stations. This, however, is no longer the real choice when it comes to energy security in the 21st century, which should be the overriding all-important goal as articulated by the President in his July 2022 statement and by the minister of finance in his Budget Speech. When it comes to energy security, all that really matters is the LCOE and reliability.

The choice, therefore, is between expensive energy and cheap energy. 

All the scientifically respected technical reports and published data confirm that renewables are the cheapest option when it comes to energy security. This does not mean relying purely on variable solar and wind energy, as some who want to discredit renewables suggest. It means relying on a combination of technologies that translate wind and solar radiation into electricity (made from minerals and metals that South Africa has in abundance), backed up by batteries (either lithium or vanadium) and gas (ideally, green hydrogen, but until this is commercially viable, natural gas). Not only is this the cheapest and most reliable way to keep the lights on, but it will trigger a mining boom for commodities needed to manufacture the infrastructures and this will also guarantee carbon tax-exempt export markets for our mining and manufactured products. 

Oh yes, and by the way, there is a bonus — we come out smelling like roses in the international environmental forums where we have already signed binding agreements.      

There is another problem that Ramokgopa’s plan does not seem to recognise. If you really want to fix any of our underperforming power plants (whether old or new-ish), this means taking them off the grid for several months at a time. 

Given that all the plants are being pushed to their limits to keep the lights on, taking them offline to thoroughly overhaul and rehabilitate will worsen load shedding. The only way to really fix those power stations that are worth fixing is by making sure there is a lot more generation capacity on the grid to take up the slack. When there is new generation capacity on the grid, then you have the space to take plants offline to rehabilitate and overhaul them without worsening load shedding. And, of course, the only way to bring new generation capacity onto the grid affordably and quickly is with renewables. This is what the Energy Action Plan clearly recognises. Eskom’s load shedding projections for the rest of 2023 confirm this argument. 

(Source: Eskom)

It is very clear from this table that Eskom’s “likely risk scenario” is red for the remainder of 2023. This means a minimum of Stage 2 load shedding under the best of conditions for the rest of the year, which are unlikely. This confirms that there is no space to take any of the machines offline for months at a time to properly repair, rehabilitate and overhaul them (which, by the way, assumes you can readily obtain the spare parts for such old machines — a problematic assumption, of course). 

Contrary to the view that renewables and coal-fired power generation are opposites, renewables can actually complement Ramokgopa’s strategy to fix the machines. He must know this, because large-scale investments in renewables are already under way and described in the Energy Action Plan. Many would have been more positive about his statements if this reality was given more emphasis. 

When it comes to contradicting Cabinet-approved policies, the following is worth noting: 

  1.  IRP 2019: this policy document contains a table that clearly maps the decommissioning targets:

According to this Cabinet-approved plan, 11GW — 25% of our total installed capacity — must be decommissioned by 2030 and replaced with renewables. This is not where Ramokgopa’s strategy will take us. 

(b) NIP 2050: “By 2050, energy supply should be enabling, and not a constraint, of economic growth and development. The energy mix must be bolder on sustainability and in achieving least cost. This will require reduced reliance on coal and growing reliance on renewable energy, especially solar and wind which are the least-cost technology, and where SA has significant comparative advantage.”  

Once again, this statement from NIP 2050 is not what Ramokgopa is talking about. Although he did briefly state that renewables are the future, his strategy for the short- and medium-term is definitely not a least-cost option.  

(c) Energy Action Plan: “Our long-term objective is to end load shedding altogether and achieve energy security by adding as much new generation capacity to the grid as possible, as quickly as possible.” The new generation capacity referred to here is renewable energy. There is no reference in the Energy Action Plan to extending the life of coal-fired power plants beyond the planned decommissioning dates in the IRP.  

(d) NDC: South Africa’s well-respected and credible NDC was updated with a fixed target range for greenhouse gas emissions levels of between 398-510 MtCO2e by 2025, and 350-420 MtCO2e by 2030, compared to 398 and 614 MtCO2e between 2025 and 2030 as communicated in the first NDC. This more ambitious target cannot be achieved by extending the life of coal-fired power stations, especially if this means changing the law to avoid compliance with MES. Without changing the law, Ramokgopa’s strategy will be illegal. 

(e) Budget Speech: As one of the conditions for the R254-billion injection to settle debt, the minister of finance stated: “Requiring Eskom to prioritise capital expenditure in transmission  and distribution during the debt-relief period.” This statement is incompatible with Ramokgopa’s focus on investing in generation, including seeking additional funding from the fiscus. Granted, the speech does say that Eskom can invest in generation with his permission. But will this be granted? If so, on what basis? And could such a decision be contested in court, especially in light of the court’s enforcement of adherence to MES? Even without a court decision, the lengthy proceedings will push out the timelines by years.   

(f) JET-IP: If asked whether the South African economy would benefit from an increase in FDI by $8.5-billion at a time of negative GDP-per-capita growth, Ramokgopa would undoubtedly say yes. But by suggesting an option that flatly contradicts the carefully thought-out provisions of the JET-IP, including references to accelerated decommissioning of coal-fired power, Ramokgopa has put this much-needed inflow of FDI in jeopardy.  

Since the President’s July 2022 statement, many local and global funders started gearing up to mobilise the R1.5-trillion needed to really kickstart the South African energy transition. Despite the well-known political differences between key political players, they were nevertheless deeply encouraged by the NIP 2030, JET-IP, the Budget Speech, the Energy Action Plan (backed up by the National Electricity Crisis Committee) and the influence of the Presidential Climate Commission. Sure, everyone knows that fixing those machines that are fixable and/or concessioning them out is part of the strategic mix. And sure, everyone knows South Africa will be burning coal for the next three decades, albeit less and less over time. 

But Ramokgopa’s strategic preference for reviving the coal economy goes well beyond this tactical position. Unsurprisingly, because this perspective comes from the minister in the Presidency responsible for electricity, confidence across the board has been shaken. As Ramokgopa said, it is now up to the Cabinet to review the options. We can only hope that well-considered approved policies and financial realities will determine the final outcome. DM   

Mark Swilling is the programme coordinator at the Centre for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch University. 

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Pennington says:

    “The minister of electricity”, this is Alice in Wonderland at it’s best

  • Cormac Cullinan Cullinan says:

    Thank you Mark Swilling for this excellent and very timely article. I had hoped that the Electricity Minister was the President’s way of getting around the Mantashe road block in order to accelerate the vital transition to renewable. However his ill-informed pronouncements since taking office are extremely concerning- thank you for this clear explanation of why. Further investment in coal burning infrastructure at this time is insane, and should be criminal.

  • A S says:

    Mark Swilling for minister of Electricity. Yes to all of this, we need someone with a decent technical understanding of all the options. It’s ridiculous that Ramokgopa spends two months learning about something and all of sudden thinks he’s an expert

  • Sandra McEwen says:

    He is facilitating further theft and failure. A follow on of Gwedes corruption and reversing Andre de Ruyters clear vision.

  • Peter Doble says:

    Whoever thought that a realistic sensible option would take precedence over short term vote bid is simply living in a fool’s paradise. As any right wing anti revolutionary knows, the wind and the sun can’t be stolen (although inevitably a way would be found) so forget the renewable route.

  • A Fer says:

    Minister of Electricity clearly been captured by coal lobby…

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    That this ill-informed clown chooses the illegal option as his preference, dissing the real experts en route, is indicative of where he’s at, and where he’s going.

  • Johan Buys says:

    why spend money fixing a machine so that the operator can just break it? Again and again and again

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    Can’t help but notice that the comrade minister is wearing a Patek Phillipe Nautilus watch, value = +R2m.
    Not too shabby for an ex mayor & career cadre, just saying……

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Seriously? I’m no expert on watches, but even if it cost 10% of that, it would be wildly out of kilter with his earnings as a part-time mayor for a few years.

    • Confucious Says says:

      OMG!! Well spotted! it would be right if an anc official didn’t have luxury goods dripping off of it’s body. Of course, this watch has a superior (em)bezzle! Like captain woodwork said, he’s inspiring others to do the same!

    • Rory Short says:

      As Andre revealed Eskom is a hot bed of cadre corruption and clearly as a benficiary of corruption himself, revealed by his watch, the last thing he would want to do is turn off the corruption taps.

  • Luan Sml says:

    So what happened to the “expert” technical team who were touring Eskom… is this part of their feedback?

  • Meirion Griffiths says:

    Brilliant article, but let’s call a spade a spade. The ANC government is only interested in short-term coal solutions because they earn huge kickbacks from the coal mafia. These mining and coal transportation companies are reaping a massive cash windfall. The dodgy characters within the ruling party will not give that up for anything. As this minister stated recently, load-shedding is due to technical reasons, not corruption. A bald-faced lie if ever I’ve heard one.

  • Paul Hjul says:

    Has a coal plant in South Africa ever been decommissioned before being well past the end of its proper life span? The entire fiasco appears to be centred on a refusal to grasp that coal electric generating by its very nature is capital intensive outlays with very short (considering the outlay) useful life. The costs of extending really represents building new plants. If we were to build capacity from renewables first, then in 3 years time embark on a refurbishment plan to have some coal plants available (especially in a standby state) then while it would represent gravy to a clearly politically motivated puddle I think we could all live with that. As Germany has found functioning coal capability can come in handy.

  • Mike Newton says:

    Our coal fired power stations are failing due to lack of maintenance, maloperation and corruption.
    With modern, proven, methods of predictive maintenance and equipment monitoring the life of a power station can be extended well beyond the original design.
    Looking at the problem rationally, it would be cheaper to refurbish existing plant than to build new.
    There is no doubt that electricity produced by wind and solar is cheaper than electricity generated from fossil fuels. But it is intermittent.
    The cost of battery storage of grid scale quantities of electricity is prohibitive. Published figures quote prices of around R 10000 for storage of 1 Kw Hr in Li ion batteries.
    Other technologies such as flow batteries, which would be much cheaper, are not yet commercially available.
    Rooftop solar with battery backup is far too expensive for all but the rich.

    • Johan Buys says:

      Mike: Don’t go by small system ads. Some of facts about grid and industrial size energy:

      Right now there is a solar plus storage plant in construction that will deliver constant 150MW from 5AM to 9PM to the grid. No intermittency. Price per kWh is ¼ of what Eskom spends on diesel or gas. It’d be easy to put up solar + storage that only runs in peak morning and evening periods and entirely eradicate peakers.

      If we build pumped storage dams that we know are feasible, they can act as a 9GW / 30h “battery” and absorb energy whether that energy comes from sun, wind, nuclear or coal.

      Solar plus storage is already a LOT cheaper than council electricity prices for industrial supply. My factory uses electricity mainly daylight hours. I was a 300kW user, in a few weeks I will generate more than my annual loads and only be a 60kW grid user. If these clowns deteriorate further I make changes and cut the cable completely. Yes the capex is big but I will recover capex and interest in under 5y and then have 20 years of benefits thereafter. Any solution that saves you more than you would have spent is not a luxury, it is a clever investment. I will also eradicate diesel for loadshedding, as now my solar will always run, saving me another R120k a month and a big headache.

      Regardless of my green ambitions, the game is over for coal grid supply in SA.

    • Rory Short says:

      Back up dam storage is surely preferable in every way to current batteries?

      • Johan Buys says:

        Rory:

        Hydro storage is great because of the potential to store many hours or days worth of energy. We actually have three sites that passed feasibility studies more than a decade ago and could have been built by now. Eskom must just not be in charge, their last hydro storage (Ngula) was a disaster at years late and 300% of budget. We should launch all three dams today on Build Operate Transfer contracts to private sector.

        For private storage, batteries are pretty much the only option. There are some compressed air storage systems and several interesting new battery chemistries for stationary objectives. Hydrogen electrolysis fed back through a fuel cel also getting there but some risky operational issues. But even the Lithium ones offer good math. I’m doing large ones now and can work on R5k/kWh for battery with warranty for more than 5000 cycles. So storage cost is under R1/kWh and the solar energy you put in is about 75c/kWh. I pay FAR more than R1.75/kWh now, before the 30% increase coming over next two years.

    • Ryckard Blake says:

      Build new solar and pumped storage dams urgently, and start replacing old boilers, coal and ash-handling plant from Kriel, Duvha, Matla etc as new capacity coming on line permits. The turbo-generators and balance of plant at the seventies-eighties stations can be maintained at reasonable cost to last beyond 2040.
      Think Circulating Fluidized Bed boiler technology for replacements.

  • Terry Lamont Smith says:

    Good article. Just a thought! Ramakgopa’s downplaying of the damage done by corruption (simultaneously with this proposal) tends to show his brief is to find a way to ensure that the gravy train of illicit funds (in large part from coal supply and delivery contracts) for the party and its hangers-on doesn’t get de-railed, which the renewables plan clearly will.

    • Thinker and Doer says:

      Very well said! Minister Ramomgopa is certainly adopting the approach of Minister Mantashe, to keep the reliance on coal continuing. Thank you Professor Swilling for a very informative and helpful assessment of the policy paralysis which is being worsened by the appointment of the completely unnecessary Minister of electricity, who seems to be ignoring all of the important work and commitments that have been made in trying to actually come up with a sound plan for the energy transition. The Minister of electricity seems to want to rely entirely on his own assessments based on his grand tour of the power stations, rather than on work that has been done involving experts. He should be focusing on effectively implementing the plans and addressing corruption and maladministration at Eksom, but that is clearly not his mandate or what he is interested in.

    • Rory Short says:

      Absolutely!

  • Confucious Says says:

    Shock and horror! The anc wanting to take the path of least effort.

  • Buster Sefor Sefor says:

    Me thinks that the heavy hand of Gwede is pulling strings here

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    It cannot be switch off one and move to another. What does seem clear is that coal can’t simply be dumped but some power stations are beyond repair. It is also clear that renewables, although fragile are the quickest to market and should be fast tracked – Problem is ANC can’t find ways to transport sunshine, wind or rivers so the feeding trough is empty.
    The best option for a sustainable baseload has to be nuclear but ANC gave away its Pepplebed technology and the engineers that invented it went with it. The rest of our best engineers are excelling around the world, including helping building the UAE fleet.
    Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot😕

  • bobby.freeman78 says:

    Well researched, timely article. Hopefully it is thoroughly considered before final decisions are made to meet the long term power requirements. But we have to get moving. Will the Minister make an informed decision or a dumb political one?

  • Piet van der Merwe says:

    Are the Cadres are organising another feeding frenzy at the trough or is our Minister of Load Shedding an excellent example of the Dunning-Kruger principle, becoming an expert in two months?

  • Stanley Meares says:

    I hate to be contrarian as I agree with most of the comments regarding the incompetence at best of this communist government. However, it’s common knowledge that renewables cannot guarantee base load requirements. At our present low economic output, base load is approximately 25GW. The unpredictability of renewable supply, as when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, necessitates the installation of far greater renewable capacity than is actually required, including mass storage of unused capacity during periods of low demand. Non renewables overcome the obstacles of unpredictable weather conditions. It’s ironic that Germany, once at the forefront of the renewables brigade, is now recommissioning its decommissioned nuclear and coal fired power stations.

    • Anton van Niekerk says:

      It is not often that the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow all over SA. The coal stations will be decommissioned over a period of time and a combination of battery storage and gas turbines will take over the slack. That is how they are doing it all over the world.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Germany brought back its coal power as a direct result of the surge in prices of gas and the threatened squeeze in supply from Russia after the ANC-endorsed invasion of Ukraine. Absolutely nothing to do with the efficacy of renewable generation. It’s not like they decommissioned all those plants without any planning and foresight and then suddenly realised they had no baseload for Europe’s most industrialised economy! If anything, the German example illustrates how it is possible, with careful planning, awareness of demand and mitigating against the fluctuations in solar and wind supply, a well-run country with politicians and bureaucrats with knowledge and the desire to put the country first and their lifestyles last, CAN move away from fossil fuel baseload.

      • D'Esprit Dan says:

        Meant to add that gas in Germany provides much of the peak or baseload consumption, but hte country still generated 46% of power last year through renewables – so a decent balance is quite possible. Moreover, Germany is looking to drive this well beyond 50% in the years ahead.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    From the moment he said that the problems were technical and that there was no corruption, we all knew, right? Another ANC cadre toeing the bloody party line. This government will destroy South Africa while we all sit helplessly and watch.
    What will it take? We didn’t need another Gwede, one is more than enough.

    • Rory Short says:

      Corruption is unfortunately in the very DNA of the ANC. The best thing for the country is for the ANC to be voted out of power in 2024, besides being against Apartheid they had nothing to offer SA.

    • Stanley Meares says:

      It’s called democracy. The criminals win the popular vote which gives them permission to loot the country for 5 years until we get the opportunity to vote again. In the interim all we can do is sit and watch.

  • Marianthe Stacey says:

    Thank you for an excellent article! Surely Cabinet can see the way forward – but how deeply captured is it by the coal mafia? Their decision will show us soon.

  • Michael Kahn says:

    Thank you for an excellent article, Mark Swilling. But here’s the thing. For the ANC it comes down to staying in political power at any cost. To succeed in this, the unions and coal bosses must be kept inside the tent. So Ramokgopa is not the Electricity Czar. He is the Elections Czar. That’s it. Analyze all of his posturings through that lens and it will make sense. Read his lips: ‘the workers are demoralised …’ (So are we.) Keep on with the rational arguments. Someone may be listening.

  • mike muller says:

    Afraid to say that 2 500 words on a renewable energy strategy with the only mention of storage being that SA can use batteries is just ignorant magical thinking parading as expertise.

    Of course wind and solar look cheap at the point of generation. But when the cost of storage (and transmission) is taken into account, those intermittent solutions suddenly look much more expensive. Where is that money going to come from? More critical still, utility scale storage and transmission take time to build. We can put up panels in a few months and wind turbines in a few years but the energy must be available where the people and economy is.

    So this article conflates the long term strategy to get us to 2050 or 2060 with the short term challenges of keeping the lights on over the next 5 years. In the long term, we must have a net zero energy system. In the short term, we will be depending on coal.

    What we need is to agree on a balanced programme of investment that keeps the lights on while steadily building a trillion dollar system that will get us to net zero in 30 years time. We won’t get there by throwing mud at each other or pretending that there are easy, politically correct green solutions there for the taking.

  • André Pelser says:

    Realpolitik dictates that coal will remain in the picture for the foreseeable future, the power of the coal mafia alone makes this unavoidable. Finding the right balance, and mix, and curtailing corruption is the real challenge.
    We need a tough, well trained Hawks, Scorpions agency that can police SAPS and the state, and proper scrutiny of tenders, contracts and disbursements – and better control of foreign exchange controls and banking.

    • Hermann Funk says:

      “We need a tough, well trained Hawks, Scorpions agency” Unfortunately, this will not happen, since they may have to arrest half of the cabinet.

    • Rory Short says:

      Wishful thinking I’m afraid. The electorate must abandon the ANC in 2024.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Agreed that coal will remain part of the equation for the foreseeable future – and that’s pretty logical and acceptable. It shouldn’t be a zero-sum game between coal on the one hand and renewables on the other, but the correct balancing of coal power and renewables + storage on the other. Maybe even modular nuclear (although I believe that this may be too expensive for SA – which would make it very attractive to the ANC) or the pumped storage excellently laid out by Johan Buys earlier. However, what shouldn’t be tolerated is the status quo of completely broken coal stations being plundered by the corrupt: those units that have been the root of the problem must be decommissioned ASAP, so that those that are more or less salvageable can be brought back into proper functionality. At present, we’re trying to rehabilitate and maintain a large farm on a flower pot budget.

  • Claerwen Howie says:

    Thank you very much, Mark Swilling, for your excellent article. It’s almost beyond belief that this ‘Minister of Electricity’ is even drawing a salary.
    1. What are his academic credentials?
    2. What is his experience as an electrical engineer?
    3. It’s now clear that any thinking person HAS to vote the ANC out of power next year.

  • Carlo Fourie says:

    The Territorial Leader and the Other Minister who also benefits from coal will resist renewables with everything they’ve got. There’s still too much money and beneficiaries in coal, and Ramokgopa is well aware of this. The coal fields is one of the few remaining troughs left for the ANC cadres to feed from, they will not let it go.

  • Marius Laker says:

    After doing a walkabout and receiving verbal inputs, he now thinks he is fully up to date with what needs to be done? Surely he should also study the renewables part of the equation before giving vent to his preferences?

  • James Cunningham says:

    when I was in the business 35 years ago Grootvlei power station was up for closure. I’m stunned its still going and that more budget is being allocated to keep it running. upgrading old control systems is terribly expensive and where is the coal coming from? the old Springfield colliery is surely closed by now? the plan must be to keep the coal lobby quiet and happy in the lead up to the election.

  • Caroline White says:

    South Africa is ideally placed for solar and wind power renewables. It should be moving to solar and wind as fast as possible and away from coal-fired power stations. Another advantage of solar and wind generation is that they can be controlled by local communities.

  • Neil Parker says:

    Just “google” on “coal corruption in South Africa” and you’ll see why the Minister is so anxious to continue his futile quest to maintain our ramshackle power stations. The ANC is hell-bent on undermining everything that De Ruyter tried to do to bring an end to such corruption. But they are on a hiding to nowhere – everyday you stand outside and remember:

    “You can’t steal from the sun”.

    Let me say it again:

    “You can’t steal from the sun”.

    And just one more time just in case the message hasn’t sunk in:

    “You can’t steal from the sun”.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    The Cabinet making any final decisions is, in itself, a disaster!
    That being said, so many backhanders have been paid through Eskoms use of coal, it is difficult for this government to retract deals and “promissory notes” given – they have no choice but to stick to the old way and continue the theft from Rate payers who are the “ cash cow” for this collapsing SOE. We saw what happened to SAA – collapsing under the weight of mismanagement and theft and continually propped up by the exhausted taxpayer. This is the way of the ANC and nothing will change until they are either without funds to steal or without funds to steal!!!! Relying on votes to change the status quo is like whistling Dixie! Only Biz S A and taxpayers can force a change in government to something that actually works!

  • Gordon Bentley says:

    The sensible people of SA must force the ANC to remove this Electricity Minister, sorry, this ignorant, Nincumpoop, from meddling in our disastrous Electricity matters. He even has a Fat Cat hairstyle,(shaven head and rolls at the back), never mind the the Fat Cat watch, see pic above…

    In addition, he is costing the Taxpayers a lot of money and appears to be ignoring Renewables in favour of the “Coal-Option-Fat-Cats” at the trough. We need an Energy Expert in this position, as demonstrated in Mark Swilling’s excellent article, who will offer the best options for SA.

    Any ideas how we get rid of this fool? Somehow we must seek to publish articles, such as this, in well distributed, popular newspapers, with selected comments written by DM-reading South Africans.
    DM, any ideas from your selves?

  • chris butters says:

    Another important issue – that of jobs – needs adding to this excellent article and widely spread. One key justification for coal is the votes, next year and beyond, of coal miners. It has however long been recognised that renewable energy generally offers far more jobs than coal (or nuclear energy). With increasing mechanisation and automation, modern coal mining requires thousands fewer jobs than in the past.
    A further major advantage of renewables such as solar and wind is that they are spread out, offering jobs in all parts of the country. This is very positive in view of achieving socially inclusive and regionally fair economic development.
    I have also discussed in Opinionista (05.12.2021) the large potential of the various forms of biomass based energy, which has similar advantages in terms of regional spread and jobs; and argued the need for far more focus (28.09.2022) on demand side reductions – energy efficiency and energy saving. These, too, are diverse, regionally spread out, and require thousands of jobs, both skilled and unskilled labour – such as insulating buildings, replacing inefficient items, and introducing energy saving practices. To take my own field, for example, zero energy buildings, are already a reality. Options to reduce demand are also recognised globally as often being even cheaper than providing more supply in the form of renewables. The adage again: the only really cheap (and reliable!) energy is the kind you don’t need.

  • Helen Holleman says:

    Pragmatism is clearly not a requirement for Ministerial duty.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Download the Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox.

+ Your election day questions answered
+ What's different this election
+ Test yourself! Take the quiz