Minister Blade Nzimande: Energy transition and security as a catalyst for Africa’s accelerated economic development

South Africa’s participation in the Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa Day 2023 and the 8th multi-stakeholder forum on science, technology, and innovation for the sustainable development goals scheduled to take place from 2 to 4 May 2023 at the United Nation’s Headquarters, New York

Programme Director,

Distinguished guests,

Fellow panelists,

Ladies and gentlemen

It gives me great pleasure to be part of this event to deliberate on the importance of energy transition and security in order to accelerate economic development in our continent.

Our recent experience in South Africa has demonstrated the critical need for both energy security and transition, hence while this is a challenge, the Just Energy Transition Framework and the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan that we have developed provides us with opportunities to deal with both energy security and transition at the same time.

As you know, access to energy remains an essential pillar of efforts to reduce poverty and support economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) highlights that energy is essential for sustainable economic growth and improved human welfare. Unfortunately for us as a continent, more than two-thirds of people that did not have access to electricity in the world in 2019 were from sub-Saharan Africa. Given this reality, it is not a coincidence that the ninth session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD), that was held in Niger (Niamey) from 28 February to 2 March 2023 lamented that Africa is unfortunately not on track to achieve SDG 7 (Affordable and clean energy) targets).

As you probably know, in South Africa we have had our own experiences when it comes to access to energy.

The energy crisis that we are currently experiencing has significantly limited economic growth in South Africa, thereby preventing the country from resolving high rates of unemployment. The power shortage is estimated to have reduced economic growth in 2021 in South Africa by 3% thereby costing the country an estimated 350,000 potential new jobs for that year alone. In 2022, it was estimated that it would cost South Africa R500 billion (US$28 billion) to resolve the energy crisis within three years.

In order to deal with energy security and transition, efforts need to be made to come up with decisions on technically robust energy demand and supply infrastructure that involve all stakeholders and consider all possible energy supply and demand options.

It is essential to bring all hands-on deck, including all relevant stakeholders to assist us in charting out tried and tested energy strategies, in order to alleviate the many challenges faced in Africa.

As you know, some of our power stations are almost 50 years old and reaching decommissioning, hence there is an urgent need to invest in new power stations that include a diversified energy mix. This is critical because, overall, energy demand in Africa is expected to grow twice as fast compared to global average.

Ladies and gentleman

While Africa has the richest solar resources in the world, it only accounts for only 5 gigawatts (GW) of installed solar PV; which is less than 1% of the global installed capacity. In the sub-Saharan Africa region, while efforts to promote energy access are gaining momentum, however, such efforts are being outpaced by population growth.

This is despite the fact that Africa has all the mineral and natural resources needed as inputs into the new energy technologies which include batteries, hydrogen and fuel cells. It is unfortunate that in some cases, Africa has not been able to take advantage of these opportunities because of unclear energy policies, lack of market incentives, human and institutional capacity amongst others.

As I have indicated earlier, South Africa and Africa at large faces considerable climate and energy-related risks such as shortages of electricity supply, under-investment in the electricity system, as well as physical, social, and transition risks.

For us in South Africa in particular, high carbon-intensity of production and economic dependency on fossil-fuel value chains require specific interventions to manage and mitigate the consequences of transition, particularly for impacted workers, communities, small business, and exporters’ exposure to carbon trade barriers; hence we have developed our Just Energy Transition Framework to guide us as we move forward. Nonetheless, embracing new economic opportunities in green technologies can drive industrial development, innovation, and economic diversification, leading to a sustainable and economically resilient future.

The African Union has various strategies on Energy Development Strategies and Initiatives for Africa designed to increase energy access to African people, improve livelihoods and ensure environmental sustainability.

These strategies require support, both in terms of finance and technical capacity for implementation. The Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt conference highlighted that an amount of USD 4 trillion per year would have to be invested in renewable energy up until 2030 to be able to realise net zero emissions by 2050.

In March 2023, the IEA organized the Ministerial meeting in Paris, France, which discussed accelerating global action on clean energy and energy security. The event shared experiences and views of the continent’s energy priorities and challenges.

In South Africa, the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) which is the government department that I lead, has a Chief Directorate that deals with Hydrogen and Energy programmes. The Chief Directorate provides policy leadership in Research, Development, and Innovation (RDI) initiatives through a number of energy flagship programmes aimed at:

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution while contributing to a more diverse and sustainable energy mix by enabling the widespread commercialisation of battery, fuel cell, renewable and net zero carbon technologies based on publicly funded intellectual property rights;

Facilitating the market adoption of clean and alternative energy technologies through research, development and validation efforts while fostering strategic partnerships with public and private sector to reduce the institutional and market barriers to their commercialisation;

Promoting local value addition through leveraging South Africa’s resource endowment.

We have also adopted the HySA strategy in 2006, the Hydrogen Society Roadmap in 2020. We also have a single largest reserve of PGM’s and also have built key facilities for hydrogen.

In conclusion

I want to reiterate that this discussion is an important one, the outcome of which should assist us in formulating policies that can be used in sustainable energy generation.

As a continent, we need to make sure that we leverage our resource and intellectual power and prowess of the different stakeholders to create a knowledge base to inform and support the development of a diversified energy mix while ensuring energy security for our continent.

Our interventions and partnerships include the following:

We are developing fuel cell infrastructure and piloting this in a hospital and a municipality by using fuel cells;

To deal with Just Transition we are ensuring that we protect jobs, whilst seeking to create new ones;

We are continuing to use coal, whilst cleaning it to deal with the immediate problem of blackouts, whilst at the same time building our renewables capability.

I thank you all

Source: Government of South Africa