In the face of a global climate crisis, South Africa is at a crucial juncture in redefining its energy landscape. However, there are still opposing views on whether the country's Just Energy Transition will be a fast or slow one.

In the face of a global climate crisis, South Africa is at a crucial juncture in redefining its energy landscape. This was revealed at the recent Transitions in South Africa’s energy provision discussion, by the National Science and Technology Forum (NSTF).

Steve Nicholls, the head of Climate Mitigation at the Presidential Climate Commission (PCC), opened the discussion by noting that the Just Energy Transition is complex.

He noted that South Africa warms at twice the rate of the global average – a great concern for an already arid and water-scarce country.

“The concept of a Just Energy Transition is not merely about energy; it encapsulates a transition that spans the entirety of the economy. In this context, our primary objective is to elevate individuals out of poverty, inequality, and unemployment while striving to enhance our economy’s competitiveness and create opportunities for every individual in SA,” he said.

Steve highlighted that worsening climate impacts, trade risks and physical risks would affect the poor more severely.

“Not only are there physical risks, but there are also transitional risks, risks imposed on the economy based on things like international policy, trade, technology change and so on,” he= said.

Steve explained the two main views as a:

  • Slower transition: Tied to the belief that high variable renewable energy penetration systems are not secure; that the economic cost of coal closure on jobs and livelihoods is too high; and concerns that once ancillary services are factored in, variable renewable energy is not competitive.
  • Faster transition: Proponents of which believe it would enhance access to capital, enhance trade competitiveness, increase geopolitical influence, reduce the impacts of climate change and other related environmental issues like water, and reduce the impacts of air pollution.

In advocating for a faster transition, he said. “It promises energy security and stability, affordability, and the crucial decarbonisation of the economy,” he said.

Dr Cosmas Chiteme, acting chief director of Hydrogen and Energy at the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), outlined some of the catalytic projects that could form a “just transition and try to find the link between the existing industry, which is mostly fuelled by coal, to the incoming industry where green hydrogen is at the core of this transition”.

He said, “To maintain our market share, we must also make sure that we meet our climate change commitments. That will then allow us as a country to transition responsibly. If we can reduce the emissions coming out of our coal-generation fleet, we can continue to generate electricity or power using those assets and do that without a negative impact on the environment. We are, for example, also looking at how to use green hydrogen to produce green steel products etc.”

The forum, which took place from 22 to 23 August and had over 200 subscribers participating, is expected to become an annual event.



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