An urgent drive for energy transition in South Africa
By Thabo Molekoa Chairman and Managing Director Siemens Energy South Africa
March 27, 2023
Climate change is real and an existential threat to humankind. We’re seeing the consequences: droughts, fires, and floods at our doorstep and in every corner of the planet. We’re experiencing the warmest years since weather records began. It is a turning point. As the IPCC report (2022) states, “To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45% from 2019 levels by 2030.” This requires nothing less than a complete transformation of the global energy system.
The world, and especially South Africa with its vast reliance on coal-fired power generation, needs a more diversified energy mix and a massive expansion of renewable, green energy along with corresponding infrastructures and storage capacities.
South Africa has been experiencing one of the worst energy crises in the region for years, affecting millions of people across the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa has recently declared a state of national disaster to fight the paralyzing crisis situation. South Africa’s ageing coal-powered electrical stations aren’t coping with increased energy demand. This leads to daily rolling power cuts known as load shedding, a method run by utilities to reduce the energy demand on the systems through temporarily switching off energy distribution. 2022 was the year with the worst blackouts, recording 205 days without power. South Africa is blessed with abundant sources of wind and solar and urgently requires the implementation of renewable, sustainable, and affordable energy solutions to supplement a just energy transition. By implementing the right frameworks to incentivize green industry growth, tens of thousands of high skilled, long term and sustainable jobs can be created.
The long-term phase out of coal is an important first step to accelerate this transition. Combined Cycle Power Plants (CCPP) are the right technology to support this phase out. Switching to natural gas as a transitional fuel and opening the road to renewable hydrogen-based power generation, will significantly reduce CO₂ emissions whilst creating room for new entrepreneurial start up enterprises. If every coal power plant in operation today in South Africa were converted to modern combined-cycle power plants, emissions in the electricity sector could be at least halved. What is more: green hydrogen (H2) can be used in our gas turbines as a sustainable fuel replacing natural gas. We’re able to co-fire up to 75% hydrogen in some selected gas turbines and are planning for 100% hydrogen for the whole fleet by 2030, in seven years!
South Africa is one of the sweet spots on the planet where hydrogen can be economically produced. Due to its geographically beneficial location, and once the in-country ramp up of green hydrogen production has been performed, South Africa can become an export powerhouse for green hydrogen and its products
Our technologies are a backbone of affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy systems but honestly, we can’t do it alone. Business, government, and society must work together to create a new and sustainable energy landscape for South Africa. Global partnerships are needed to balance the energy trilemma not only in the face of the geopolitical crises, but also in managing the energy transition and achieving net-zero climate targets. With more than 150 years of operating in South Africa, Siemens Energy stands ready to assist in the transformation journey. Our retention of Level 1 Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) status for the second year in a row, after the carve out from Siemens AG, is further recognition to our ambition of energizing society, i.e. in supporting employees, local communities and societies where we do business.
This technical paper gives an overview of the key technologies which will enable to drive the energy transition in South Africa step by step and with a clear direction.