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Energy minister vows change with ‘aggressive’ renewables roll-out


Energy and Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa has committed to an “ultra-aggressive” approach to increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix. This includes significant investments in solar and wind projects, particularly in regions like the Northern Cape​.

The Kenhardt solar farm in the Northern Cape, one of the world’s largest hybrid solar PV and battery storage projects. Picture: Scatec

SOUTH Africa’s new energy minister vowed this week to accelerate the shift to renewable energy from coal, breaking with a predecessor who opposed swift decarbonision and pledged to keep burning coal for a long time.

This includes significant investments in solar and wind projects, particularly in regions like the Northern Cape​.

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who now runs the newly-created Energy and Electricity Ministry, was addressing journalists as Africa’s most industrial nation celebrated more than 100 days with no power cuts – a record over years of crippling blackouts.

“I am going to be ultra-aggressive on the … renewable energy. You are going to see an exponential share,” he told a news conference in Pretoria, adding that he wanted to signal to investors “our intention to go that route”.

Owing to its reliance on coal-fired power stations run by state provider Eskom, South Africa is among the world’s top 15 greenhouse gas emitters – pushing out more than Britain, Turkey or France – and has the highest carbon intensity among the Group of 20 largest economies, according to watchdog Climate Transparency.

“We are going to be the leaders on this continent in relation to renewables,” Ramakgopa said.

It cut a very different tone from predecessor Gwede Mantashe, who had repeatedly urged resisting international pressure to rush into green energy, questioning its viability.

President Cyril Ramaphosa chose his new cabinet at the end of last month, after weeks of horse-trading with other parties following the ruling ANC’s unprecedented majority loss in a May election.

Previously, energy had been tied to mines, under Mantashe, but Ramaphosa hived it off and merged it with Ramokgopa’s electricity ministry, in what analysts saw as a move to decouple energy from coal.

With 400,000 square kilometres of semi-desert and a vast coastline battered by strong winds, South Africa also has some of the world’s most abundant renewable energy potential.

The Northern Cape already plays a significant role in South Africa’s roll-out of renewable energy. The region’s vast semi-desert areas and strong wind resources make it an ideal location for solar and wind power projects.

Yet policy uncertainty has discouraged investment, and activists bemoaned a government decision last year to delay decommissioning several coal-fired power stations well into 2030, citing energy security.

Ramokgopa admitted South Africa’s switch to green energy had “taken a bit longer than what is necessary,” and said his priority would be meeting business people to discuss “the hurdles that undermined … their appetite to participate.”

One of the largest hybrid solar and battery storage facilities in the world, developed by Norwegian company Scatec ASA, recently started operations in Kenhardt, Northern Cape. This facility combines 540 MW of solar power with 225 MW/1,140 MWh of battery storage, underscoring the Northern Cape’s potential as a central hub for renewable energy in South Africa​.


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