Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi has declared her support for the proposed 3 700 MW gas-to-power programme. File photo: Ian Landsberg
Speaking at the Gas to Power World Congress in Cape Town last week, Energy Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi declared her support for the proposed 3700 MW gas-to-power programme.

Although this declaration is promising, it is essential for all stakeholders to act quickly and decisively.

The first step is to make more concrete commitments to the programme, in order to ensure that South Africa’s installed energy capacity is comprised of a sustainable mix of cheaper, cleaner and more efficient power generation technology that brings socio-economic prosperity to the nation.

Gas is a critical component of diversified electrification, and the rapid implementation of gas-to-power is a very real possibility with private sector participation, including technology, experience and investment.

Gas is flexible, it is economic transformation at work and it is an industry that could unlock a new wave of industrial development in Africa.

A recent study revealed that the development of South Africa’s natural gas industry could boost gross domestic product by R250 billion by 2030; and create up to 328 000 direct and indirect jobs.

The 2015 Industrial Policy Action Plan refers to the profound potential for transformative gas industrial policy, and calls for "ongoing work to develop a road map for gas-based industrialisation".

Sabine Dall’omo

Downstream benefits will be felt across numerous industries, resulting in greater localisation and the rise of more black industrialists.

At Siemens, we nurture and develop black-owned partner businesses from grassroots level, and incorporate our global good governance, compliance and ethical business mentoring into the programme, to give rise to a new and empowered generation of entrepreneurs.

Quickly built

Unlike other generation options, gas-fired power plants can be quickly powered up and down to meet fluctuating demand. This means gas can increase the flexibility already provided by South Africa’s existing renewable energy projects.

Gas is also quick - in our experience, open­-cycle-gas­ turbine power stations can be built in less than two years.

A 600MW gas-fired combined cycle power plant can produce its first power within 18 months and is completed in less than three years, compared to more than five years or more for a coal-fired power plant.

It is our responsibility to ensure that any new economic development has as low an environmental impact as possible. According to the Environmental Impact Assessment in 2012 South Africa was the leading carbon dioxide emitter in Africa (accounting for 40 percent of emissions in Africa) and the 13th largest emitter in the world.

This is largely as a result of our dependence on coal. Gas-fired plants’ non-greenhouse gas emissions (eg SO2, NOx, and particulate matter) are much lower than for coal-fired plants.

Read also: SA yet to move on gas-to-power project

Gas-fired power plants also take up 50 percent less land than their counterparts and produce less than half the carbon emissions of new coal plants. Gas power plants also use considerably less water for cooling when compared to coal or nuclear, making the technology ideal for water scarce regions like South Africa.

In South Africa, the time for gas is now. The policy and economic landscapes are aligned behind gas. Rapid implementation can be enabled with private sector technology, experience and investment.

There will never be a better time for South Africa to adopt gas as a reliable and cost-effective source of power. Gas-to-power is an opportunity for the continent to grab hold of, innovate around, and drive economic growth. It must be seized for the good of all Africans.

Sabine Dall’Omo is the chief executive of Siemens Southern and Eastern Africa.