According to analysis conducted by Rystad Energy, South Africa’s renewable energy share in its power mix is projected to reach just 20% by the end of the current decade. This forecast highlights the challenges faced by the country in its pursuit of decarbonization. South Africa had set a target of increasing the share of renewable energy in its power generation mix from the current 11% to 41% by 2030, mainly through the expansion of onshore wind and solar capacity. However, due to increasing demand and the addition of new coal power infrastructure, achieving these ambitious targets appears increasingly unlikely.
By 2030, South Africa’s power generation is expected to rise by over 40%, from around 210 terawatt-hours (TWh) presently to 300 TWh. Although significant investments have been made in advancing renewable energy capacity, the current pipeline of onshore wind projects may not support the country’s goals. Coal currently dominates South Africa’s power mix, accounting for over 80% of electricity generation. Besides being polluting, the reliance on aging coal power plants has resulted in frequent breakdowns and maintenance issues, leading to widespread blackouts across the nation.
While natural gas and battery storage are potential solutions, they come with their own challenges. Gas turbines offer flexibility and relatively low costs, ensuring power supply during periods of limited renewable energy availability. Large-scale battery storage can store excess energy for use during peak demand. These technologies will play a crucial role in ensuring a reliable and stable power supply as South Africa seeks to increase the share of renewables in its generation mix.
Despite the progress made in renewable energy development through the Renewable Independent Power Producer Program (REIPPP), South Africa is currently reviewing applications for solar PV and onshore wind projects, including battery storage. However, it is estimated that renewables will only contribute around 20% of the country’s power by 2030, falling short of the target. In contrast, the coal fleet is expected to expand with the addition of new units.
To facilitate the integration of renewables, South Africa is working on improving its transmission infrastructure and promoting private generation projects. Environmental authorization timelines have been reduced, and grid connection clearances are provided within six months. Additionally, plans are underway to develop gas resources and build gas-to-power plants to meet the country’s power demand.
In conclusion, South Africa faces significant challenges in achieving its renewable energy targets and decarbonization goals. While renewables hold promise, the integration of flexible gas power and battery storage is emerging as a viable path forward. Proactive measures to enhance transmission infrastructure and streamline project authorizations will be crucial in diversifying the generation mix and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.