Sona 2024: ‘No substance’ to energy plans outlined

Nick Roche is the chief product officer at Rubicon. Photo: Supplied

Nick Roche is the chief product officer at Rubicon. Photo: Supplied

Published Feb 12, 2024


By Nick Roche

While promises to end load shedding and drive a green energy transition may sound promising, the measures outlined in the 2024 State of the Nation (Sona) address lack substance.

In the Sona last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted reform of South Africa’s energy system, and plans to build over 14 000km of new transmission lines to accommodate renewable energy, with innovative investment models to promote private investment in transmission infrastructure.

He also noted that government would support electric vehicle manufacturing in South Africa, and would set up a special economic zone in the Boegoebaai rail and deep-water port project to drive investment in green energy.

However, the address lacked detail and concrete action plans. Superficially, the President said some positive things, but many of the points he made were not new, and there was little detail or substance to the speech. Nothing was said about when and how these measures would be implemented.

The Sona may also have been overly ambitious in practically announcing an end to load shedding.

We are currently in a power crisis, and moved to Stage 4 load shedding shortly after Sona. At Stage 4, we are around four gigawatts or 20% short of the power we need, so the promise of an end to load shedding may simply be wishful thinking.

South Africa needs several gigawatts of additional power urgently. We must start transitioning to green power, but at the same time, we have to address the power shortage and stabilise the base load power infrastructure. Injecting green power into the grid at utility scale and industrial and manufacturing facilities, can help to kill two birds with one stone.

The transmission network has been the Achilles heel of the Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme – people win the bids and go to implement, and they can’t because the grid is congested.

However, 14 000km of new transmission lines would help to address this challenge, but a concrete action plan is needed to ensure the lines materialise.

The government’s decision to support local manufacturing of electric vehicles is welcomed and very important. However, this only addresses one of several key areas of a transition to alternative fuel vehicles.

The President didn’t mention electric vehicle infrastructure.

It’s one thing to make EVs, which we strongly support, but we need the infrastructure and power required to charge them. Turning a country’s transport from fossil fuel powered to electric-powered roughly doubles the national electrical energy requirements, therefore we would need to inject a large amount of additional power into the grid.

We also need the infrastructure for charging EVs – private sector players such as Rubicon are already moving to build this infrastructure, but incentives and other forms of government support are required to fast-track these roll-outs.

Some big, bold statements were made in Sona, but there was not enough meat behind what the President said to convince me there’s a concrete action plan in place. The government needs to push the throttle forward hard and move now to address the energy crisis.

Nick Roche is chief product officer at Rubicon.