SA must implement Renewable Energy Masterplan urgently, says Gaylor Montmasson-Clair

South Africa imported R17.5 billion in solar panels in 2023. Picture Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

South Africa imported R17.5 billion in solar panels in 2023. Picture Henk Kruger/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 20, 2024


South Africa should implement the SA Renewable Energy Masterplan (Sarem) as soon as possible, as every day’s delay is a wasted opportunity, said Sarem facilitator Gaylor Montmasson-Clair yesterday on the side lines of the Solar Storage Live Africa and Future Energy Show.

Sarem is an industrial and inclusive development plan for the renewable energy and storage value chains by 2030, aimed at helping South Africa re-industrialise after load shedding resulted in manufacturing and mining constraints and the consequent jobs bloodbath.

“Sarem was finalised in December, and we were hoping to start implementation in March or April, but now I am not sure when it will be implemented. We started this process in early 2021, and we have ticked all the boxes as far as consulting and getting buy-in from all affected parties,” he said.

Montmasson-Clair has been highlighting how much money is spent by South Africa on importing batteries, inverters and solar panels.

South Africa imported R17.5 billion in solar panels in 2023, this as load shedding increased from 2 492 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2021 to 1 1879GWh in 2022 to 24 638GWh in 2023. The solar panels imported in 2023 have a capacity of some 5 000MW, more than the capacity of a new coal-fired power station, such as Medupi.

The demand for alternative energy sources has increased as electricity supplied by Eskom became more and more unreliable, which is why a show such as the Solar Show attracts some 20 000 visitors over three days with 500 exhibitors showing how businesses and homes can cut their reliance on Eskom power.

“Imports lag the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) approval by one quarter, so we saw a surge in approvals in the first quarter, which was then followed by a jump in imports in the second quarter,” Montmasson-Clair said.

In the first quarter of 2023, some R3.6bn in solar panels were imported followed by a record R8.4bn in the second quarter, but since has dropped below the R5bn-level.

As load shedding is unlikely to end any time soon, increasing from 813GWh in December to 1 237GWh in January, and 1 987GWh in February, the sustained demand for non-Eskom power has created local business opportunities.

A local solar panel and related accessories, such as inverters and batteries, a manufacturing industry could potentially emerge which is why Montmasson-Clair is urging the early implementation of Sarem.

In South Africa, the early deployment of renewable energy and battery technologies consist of pilot projects and niche applications, such as the electrification of remote communities and back-up for telecommunication towers, as these were too far away from the electricity grid.

The roll out of renewable energy technologies took off from 2011, with the launch of the government-led Renewable Energy Independent Power Procurer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP). South Africa was hailed as an example of how to implement this until Eskom in 2016 abruptly refused to sign contracts that would have allowed the Independent Power Producers (IPP) to achieve financial closure.

The private-sector market, which had been historically constrained by red tape has been progressively unlocked since July, 2021, as load shedding became progressively worse. Some municipalities and National Treasury have now taken steps to foster the residential and commercial market with tax breaks and feed-in tariffs, but a vibrant market is still in its infancy.

The result is that small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) installations (which generally combined solar photo voltaic (PV) panels, inverters and battery systems) is essentially for own use. The excess over own use is generally not fed into the municipal or national grid.

The contribution of non-Eskom renewable energy technologies to electricity generation in South Africa increased from less than 1% in 2000 to nearly 7% in 2022, and in December, 2022, non-Eskom power generation reached a record 14.8% of total South African electricity generation.

Sarem noted that by 2030, the global renewable energy market could reach between 5.4 million MW and 10.8 million MW as decarbonisation efforts continued, and new sources of demand, such as green hydrogen and new energy vehicles arose.

In Sarem’s view, this booming market, both domestically and globally represented an opportunity for South Africa to foster economic development, employment creation and social transformation, which is why implementation is so urgently needed.