Mantashe casts shade on renewables at COP28, stresses importance of baseload power
At a panel discussion about unlocking renewable electricity in South Africa at the South African pavilion at Cop28, one audience member — Gwede Mantashe — was seemingly unconvinced.
As world leaders and climate experts gathered at the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai to address the intensifying climate crisis, South Africa’s Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe, came close to courting controversy with remarks that cast doubt on the country’s commitment to renewable energy.
During a panel discussion at the South African Pavilion on “Unlocking Renewable Electricity in South Africa”, he expressed reservations about the reliability of renewable technologies and emphasised the continued importance of baseload generation — a byword for coal infrastructure in the South African context.
Rising to his feet as a member of the audience and sporting a black and white dashiki, Mantashe said he had just three questions:
“We talk of unlocking renewables in a country where 7,500 megawatts of energy are from renewables, where 3,800 megawatts are under construction, where embedded generation is deregulated and is therefore a moving target. So is the selection of the term ‘unlocking’ the correct one? Because renewable energy development in South Africa is in full steam.”
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Mantashe continued explaining that “my second question is why do we emphasise a single technology — renewables — without talking to challenges that go with them? For example, the need for baseload to partner with renewables. If there is no baseload, renewables become a challenge in themselves and in the discussion that is totally closed. Nobody talks about it. Why are we doing that? Because if that is the case, it may constitute misrepresentation because it doesn’t present a full story. And researchers must tell us why is Germany all of a sudden going back to nuclear.”
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“The last one: financing. The financing, is it grants? Is it concessional loans? Is it loans that leads to indebtedness of the country? That is the last one,” said Mantashe.
In response to the first question, Bhavna Deonarain, Senior Project Manager for Climate, Energy and Water at the National Business Initiative (NBI) said “maybe instead of ‘unlocking’ we should say ‘fast-tracking’ rather. The next steps are how to fast track and ensure we do have renewables online to deal with some of the energy security issues that we are facing in the country as well.”
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Responding to question two about baseload, Neil Cole, from the Just Energy Transition (JET) Project Management Unit in the Presidency, said, “the way that we’ve thought about it is what is South Africa’s energy requirement by 2030? And that 2030 date is linked to our five-year plan that has just been adopted.
“And if it is at about 75 gigawatts that we require by 2030, I think it is an important target to then keep in mind and I think it is also the guide for an Integrated Energy Plan which is going to have to be a mix that gets you to 75 [gigawatts]. And in that 75 gigawatts by 2030, you’re still going to have coal power stations, I mean Kusile and Medupi are still going to be running into the 2040s and even into the 2060s.
“But we are going to see a decommissioning of coal power stations, partly because of our NDC targets but also because many of those coal power stations are coming to the end of their lifespan. I think it would be irresponsible as a government to say that you’re going to jeopardise that target of 75 gigawatts by 2030 and I think there is an acceptance that that’s going to have to be a mix of energy sources that gets you there. So it’s important to raise this issue of baseload, but maybe what’s more important is what gets us to 75 gigawatts by 2030.”
In response to Mantashe’s third question, Cole explained that “on the loans and indebtedness, the president’s message here at COP28 has been clear: we’re going to have to get more grants into financing the JET Investment Plan. From our international partners, the original IPG partners and the newer ones who have joined, we are now sitting at just over $700-million and we think we can push that into one billion in grants in 2024.” DM