File picture: Kim Ludbrook
File picture: Kim Ludbrook

CAPE TOWN - South Africa placed almost rock bottom of a global list when it comes to how well countries balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability.

Released on Wednesday, the World Economic Forum's (WEFs) Fostering Effective Energy Transition report ranked 144 countries according to the current state of their energy systems and their structural readiness to adapt to future energy needs.

According to the Energy Transition Index (ETI) 2018 findings, Scandinavian and Western European nations lead the overall rankings, with Sweden, Norway and Switzerland making up the top three. The United Kingdom (seventh) and France (ninth) are the only G7 economies in the top 10.

Other large economies show mixed performance, with Germany (16th) facing challenges from high energy prices and rising emissions but having a high level of readiness (11th), attributed to strong institutions and regulations. The United States (25th) scored poorly on environmental sustainability, but had a strong innovation ecosystem, robust institutional framework and vibrant capital markets, contributing to a higher readiness rank (22th).

Colombia (32nd), Brazil (38th) and Russia (70th) have well-performing energy systems due to abundant natural resources, but also have low levels of readiness as a result of gaps in human capital and challenges in their institutions and regulatory frameworks.

In sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya, Namibia and Ghana made up the top three, clustered together in positions 71-73. South Africa, the economic powerhouse and most industrialised nation in Africa, failed to make the top ten in the sub-Saharan region and placed 113th overall, above only neighbour Zimbabwe.

South Africa scored poorly in the categories Share of electricity from coal generation (113th) and Flexibility in electricity system (114th).

The report states: "South Africa faces an uphill challenge in ensuring a secure, sustainable, reliable and affordable energy future for industry and society. In the new Energy Transition Index, South Africa ranks 113 / 114 countries. The country's energy challenges are marked by under-capacity, under-investment, and inefficiency.

"South Africa meets more than 90 percent of its electricity demand through coal, which also results in high per capita emission levels. Facing the challenge of rising demand, there is immediate need to further diversify the fuel mix, and to create a positive environment for more investment to meet the energy infrastructure demands. The ongoing energy transition provides opportunities for South Africa to overcome these challenges, through a strong enabling framework for innovation and investment, appropriate regulatory frameworks, and investment in human capital development for the new energy system.”

The report also found that worldwide progress towards environmental sustainability has stalled, and that energy prices have risen in real terms in more than half of the countries surveyed despite an overall fall in fuel prices.

The report ranked countries on their current energy system performance along three dimensions -- energy security and access, environmental sustainability of the system, and potential for inclusive economic growth and development -- and evaluated the extent to which enabling conditions that facilitate a low-carbon transition are present.

"With this new fact-based framework, we do not only get a view of the performance of national energy systems today but also a much-needed perspective on what is needed to succeed in the future," said Roberto Bocca, head of basics and energy industries at WEF.

The report further found that recent global trends indicate more than 80 percent of countries registered an improvement in their energy systems over the past five years, but added that a new strategy is needed to assist the one billion people currently without electricity. 

The report identified countries that demonstrate above average levels of readiness, despite lower rankings on current performance, suggesting the potential to “leapfrog” to more advanced energy systems. These include the Republic of Korea (49th), Jordan (65th), and Kenya (71st). 

The report stated that increased investment in renewables and energy efficiency in Kenya had led to significant expansion in energy access.

"China (76th) also achieves leapfrog status due to recent mandates for electric vehicles and political commitment to addressing environmental challenges, including steps towards the creation of a carbon trading market," the report added. "Its performance suffers due to its low rank on environmental sustainability."

- African News Agency (ANA)