The ANC’s election manifesto for 2019 has gone big on renewable energy – with zero mention of the country’s previous nuclear plans.
Nuclear energy emerged as a major topic over the last few years of the Jacob Zuma administration, becoming a point of contention as the South African government appeared to push through a R1 trillion-plus nuclear energy plan that the country could simply not afford.
The former president wanted to build as many as eight nuclear reactors, which would have the capacity to generate 9,600 megawatts of energy.
However, the ANC, under president Cyril Ramaphosa, has all but abandoned these plans, and is now pushing hard for renewable energy in its place.
What the ANC proposes for renewable energy
Previous election manifestos have not touched on energy production in any real detail, though the 2014 manifesto gave at least two nods to bringing nuclear energy into the mix.
In the party’s 2019 manifesto, it put a particular focus on renewable energy, promising to promote renewables, bring Eskom into the market as a key player, and to dedicate resources to upskilling and training people to deal with the renewable energy future.
The party said that it will:
- Continue to support the use of renewable technologies in the country’s energy mix to reduce the cost of energy, decrease greenhouse emissions, build the local industry through increased localisation and create jobs, while recognising the reality that we have large coal reserves that can provide cheap energy that can also assist with affordable prices.
- Take forward NEDLAC’s Green Economy Accord on renewable energy. We will ensure that workers are treated fairly and reskilled and that the needs of people and the environment are at the centre of a just transition to a sustainable and low carbon energy future.
- Develop and implement a dedicated education and training programme on renewable energy targeting young people.
- Contribute to investment to boost greater demand in the renewable sector – particularly solar, municipal waste, biomass, biogas and wind – to support rural development, localisation, research and development, small enterprises and co-operatives. The universities in Mpumalanga and Northern Cape will offer academic programmes in renewable energy.
- Reposition Eskom to play an active role in the renewable energy sector and promote public ownership in renewable energy infrastructure.
- Investigate the cost-benefit of introducing solar panels in state buildings and mandate new commercial and residential developments in the medium term to use renewable energy technologies to reduce utility costs. These should include deploying clean energy solutions to provide lighting and small power needs in the informal settlements.
South African energy plans
The change in ANC policy is not unexpected, however, as nuclear energy took a clear back seat in the country’s 2018 Integrated Resource Plan published last year.
According to the document published by the Department of Energy, while nuclear energy is still ‘on the table’ – in that it is acknowledged as part of the country’s current and future energy mix as recorded in the National Development Plan – it’s not something that will be looked at any time soon.
The IRP looks at a three scenarios between now and 2050 and how the energy make-up in the country could look based on low, medium and high economic growth.
In all scenarios, the role of coal, gas and nuclear power diminishes, and renewable energy sources balloon.
Between 2021 and 2030, all growth scenarios effectively track the same, with coal power reducing, and gas and renewable power increasing. With high growth, hydroelectric power accelerates. Coal power is expected to contribute 60% of the energy budget during this time.
In the period between 2031 and 2040, new capacity continues to be dominated by renewable energy – though provision is made to commission additional nuclear capacity of around 5600 MW. Here, coal power is expected to contribute 30% of the energy budget.
Between 2041 and 2050, renewable energy is projected to be the dominant suppliers of energy in South Africa, with the country’s sole nuclear plant, Koeberg, assumed to be decommissioned during that period. By 2050, coal is expected to account for under 10% of the energy budget, with renewables and gas accounting for 80% of produced energy.