South Africa and climate change

south20africa20power20lines1The ANC government has connected 80% of all South Africans to the electricity grid – one of its greatest successes. However, this mass electrification programme, combined with strong economic growth and rapid industrialisation, meant that demand for power outstripped supply in early 2008.

Almost 90% of South Africa’s electricity is generated by coal, since it has abundant coal resources. Since it has little oil, it also has a highly developed synthetic fuels industry, mainly derived from coal. This has resulted in the highest point source of carbon emissions in the world being the world’s only coal-to-liquids synthetic fuels factory situated in South Africa, which produces 36% of all liquid fuel consumed in this country. Finally, the economy is very energy-intensive, being based on mining and primary minerals industries (see Country Analysis Briefs: South Afrcia). All of this means that South African annual per capita carbon dioxide emissions are about 10 tonnes (though obviously not evenly spread among the population).

In April 2008, Eskom (the state-owned energy utility) began construction of South Africa’s first new coal-fired station in more than 20 years. It will have an installed capacity of approximately 4,800MW. In August 2008, Eskom also began construction of a second. In addition, the building of the first of a new generation of high-temperature, helium gas-cooled nuclear reactors is also underway. This will be the world’s first commercial-scale, high-temperature reactor and, if successful, another ten such plants are planned in South African The new nuclear power plant will be built near the 1984-built Koeberg Power Station, the only nuclear power station on the African continent, which currently provides 6% of South Africa’s electricity needs.

The South African government launched a climate strategy in 2003 (see the DME: Overview), which recognised that human health, maize production, biodiversity and water resources face their greatest threats from climate change. It identified research projects on both mitigation and adaptation, and made renewables the priority. It also set a target of 10,000 gigawatt hours of energy by 2012 to come from biomass, wind and solar renewable sources.

However, relatively little progress has been made, despite the location being so good for these technologies. Eskom, which controls 95% of the country’s power production and virtually all its transmission resources, has shown limited interest and has tried to keep small producers out of the market. It intends to add only 1,600MW of renewable energy capacity over the next 20 years, representing 2% of the electricity mix (see Renewable energy & energy efficiency partnership: Amid outages, South Africa moves slowly on renewables).

For heating, South Africa is doing much better on renewables, largely from biomass. However, only 5% of South Africa’s total energy is currently from renewable sources.

In April 2009, the South African Government launched a policy of new ‘Feed-in Tariffs’ to support wind, small hydro, landfill gas and concentrated solar energy generation, and also commercial and domestic solar water heaters (see South Africa’s ‘green’ energy tariffs). Some of this will be funded by the Clean Development Mechanism, which enables rich countries to finance projects in poor countries in return for credit against their own emissions targets.

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) has stated that the EU target of 20% by 2020 should also be the South African target, since it has plentiful sun and wind.

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