Is natural gas the key to unlocking SA’s move to renewable power?
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AS South Africa stands on the precipice of transitioning to a renewable future and a future without load shedding, the nation’s government has selected new projects to meet the country’s urgent energy needs.
The transition from coal and oil – which provides almost 90% of the country’s power – to a cleaner energy source is necessary to reach South Africa’s environmental goals.
In South Africa’s new energy roadmap submitted last year, the government has set an ambitious goal of reaching zero carbon emissions by 2050, aiming to cut their reliance on coal by half in the next 10 years.
In order to achieve that mission and manage the nation’s worsening electricity crisis, energy experts across the globe point to natural gas as the best choice to do both.
Most of the developed world has recently moved to natural gas as the foundation for their renewable power aspirations – giving it a reputation as a clean “transitionary fuel” to meet global renewable energy goals. In a report issued in 2019, the UN Economic Commission for Europe endorsed natural gas as the “obvious option” for the “reduction of the carbon footprint of energy production in the shortest possible time” because it “produces less carbon”.
Natural gas accounts for more than 23% of global primary energy demand and nearly a quarter of electricity generation across the world. The UN report also identified natural gas, and specifically liquid natural gas, as the most flexible source for baseload fuel for 24/7 consumption for countries’ energy grids, responsive to both seasonal and short-term fluctuations of energy.
The concept of using natural gas as a transition fuel in South Africa is not new.
For years, experts have identified natural gas as a necessary ingredient for the country’s energy future.
In 2014, South African energy expert Chris Yelland wrote that the nation, “needs to facilitate further independent (natural gas) power producers and facilitate the private sector in building further gas transmission and distribution for imported natural gas.”
The predictions are coming to fruition, as South Africa is poised to embrace natural gas as a transition fuel.
Following the open tender for new electricity generation, government selected four liquefied-natural-gas to power projects, by Mulilo Total and Karpowership SA, which will generate more than 1.4 GW of power, as well as additional allocation of 428 MW containing substantial investments in solar and wind projects.
In the meantime, power utility Eskom has estimated that without additional capacity, the shortfall in electricity will be between 4 000 and 6000MW over the next five years, leading to even more frequent load shedding.