2024 Outlook: What does a balanced energy transition for SA look like while challenged by energy security?

Aluwani Museisi is the Country Chair, Shell South Africa. Photo: Supplied

Aluwani Museisi is the Country Chair, Shell South Africa. Photo: Supplied

Published Feb 15, 2024


By Aluwani Museisi

A FEW weeks into 2024, South Africa still stands at a crossroads in its energy landscape, facing challenges and opportunities that demand strategic vision and decisive action.

We must emphasise the imperative of balancing affordability, access, and sustainability in the context of energy security. South Africa's commitment to the NetZero directive and its transition towards cleaner, renewable energy sources can be seen as a model for inclusive and sustainable energy development in a developing nation.

Energy security: A prerequisite for development

Energy security is the linchpin of any nation's development, and it entails ensuring the availability of energy resources, affordable access to energy services, and sustainability while minimising environmental impacts.

The South African Energy Department's Integrated Energy Plan provides a roadmap for the future energy landscape, guiding infrastructure investments and policy development. It's a commitment to energy security, recognising the role of energy in social and economic development.

The journey toward NetZero emissions is often seen as a one-size-fits-all solution, which may not always be suitable for developing nations like South Africa. It's crucial to recognise that different nations have different opportunities and constrains in the fight against climate change.

South Africa, with its significant fossil fuel reserves, can benefit from a balanced approach that combines sustainable practices with continued fossil fuel usage. Such an approach would enable a fair and just energy transition that accounts for the socio-economic realities of the country.

Affordability challenges: Sustaining the grid

A growing concern is the affordability of electricity, particularly for those at the lower end of the income spectrum. As more affluent individuals and businesses transition to renewable energy sources and leave the traditional grid, those who remain become burdened with maintaining the grid's infrastructure costs.

This situation creates a dilemma, as the financial stability of the grid infrastructure depends on a broader user base.

To address this challenge, it is essential to establish mechanisms that ensure the equitable distribution of costs while incentivising the transition to cleaner energy sources. South Africa's Just Energy Transition Investment Plan provides a roadmap to tackle this issue. By embracing the principles of justice and fairness, it seeks to mitigate the impact on vulnerable populations.

Sustainability: the role of gas and other sources of renewable energy

Renewable energy is a powerful tool in addressing energy inequality. As more people embrace distributed renewable energy solutions, such as rooftop solar panels, energy becomes accessible even to remote and underserved communities.

Citizens benefit by reducing their reliance on the grid, empowering them to take control of their energy needs.

This shift not only ensures greater access but also contributes to broader grid resilience. This, however, can only be possible if the citizens in question get help from the government.

Renewable energy through solutions such as solar panels is currently expensive, and low income households cannot afford it. At a grid level, the role of gas in the energy transition cannot be overstated, it is well documented that gas emissions are 30% less than coal.

Regional integration: A new paradigm for African energy

Energy policy in South Africa should not be seen in isolation but within the context of the entire African continent. Regional integration is a fundamental shift in policy that recognises the potential for shared resources and interconnected energy systems. By collaborating on energy initiatives, countries in the African Union can unlock a multitude of opportunities.

Africa, as a continent, boasts vast untapped energy resources, including abundant reserves of liquid natural gas. By working together, African nations can harness these resources for collective prosperity. Cross-border energy trade and infrastructure investments can not only stimulate economic growth but also enhance energy security across the region.

The year 2024 brings with it both challenges and possibilities for South Africa's energy sector.

It is paramount to strike a balance between affordability, access, and sustainability, especially in a developing nation context. South Africa's unique circumstances and vast potential for energy development present opportunities for a model that can inspire other developing nations.

By embracing inclusive, balanced, and sustainable energy policies, South Africa can lead the way towards a brighter, more secure energy future. For us at Shell Downstream South Africa, our purpose is providing more and cleaner energy and we are open to work with all the stakeholders to achieve a workable balanced energy transition for South Africa.

Aluwani Museisi is the Country Chair, Shell South Africa.