The Department Of Energy: Meeting the challenge of South Africa’s energy needs

Of all South Africa’s current challenges, building a sustainable energy future remains one of its priorities. Energy availability puts pricing at a premium – but remains a necessity for a country looking to build a strong and sustainable economy. The Department of Energy, formed in 2009, has taken up the challenge.

DOEDuring President Jacob Zuma’s new cabinet announcement in May 2009, the President emphasized the importance of the type of structure that would best serve government’s goals. “We wanted a structure that would enable us to achieve visible and tangible socio-economic development within the next five years. It should be a structure which would enable us to effectively implement our policies,” he commented.

The Department of Minerals and Energy took up this mantle in the process of establishing the two departments mandated with the mining, minerals and energy portfolio for South Africa.

The introduction of the Energy Act, in 2008, marked a significant milestone for the Department, as this legislation focuses on ensuring that diverse energy resources are available, in sustainable quantities and at affordable prices in support of economic growth and poverty alleviation. It further provides for energy planning, increased generation and consumption of renewable energies and contingency energy supply.

With President’s Zuma’s reorganisation of the state came the formation of the Department of Energy. The Department is dedicated to the regulation and transformation of the energy sector, for the provision of secure, sustainable and affordable energy.

As such, the Department has established ambitious targets for the coming years, as the country aims to meet supply and demand figures that will allow South Africa to prosper and delivery opportunities for everyone.

The Department’s 2014 vision is to create a transformed and sustainable energy sector with universal access to modern energy carriers for all by next year.

Longer term, the Department aims to improve the country’s energy mix by having 30 per cent clean energy by 2025.

The challenge of supplying a growing nation is not one that is taken lightly; Dipuo Peters was Minister of Energy from 2009 until earlier this year and made the following comments:

“The statement that energy is the life thread of our economy holds true. It is therefore important that as the Department of Energy, we look beyond the narrow interpretation of our mandate and see how we can contribute towards all government outcomes, including those where the Energy Ministry has not signed the Delivery Agreements.

From an energy supply perspective, we have done well. As we emerge from the most profound economic recession in almost a century, the challenges of electricity shortage of 2007-2008 will begin to re-emerge unless we succeed in ensuring security of supply from both the supply and demand-side management perspectives.

While the world economy is in a state of recovery following the 2008/9 economic meltdown, opportunities in numerous manufacturing sectors are created in order to kick- start those economic activities that support social development and energy demand will increase.

The mandate of the Department of Energy is to ensure secure and sustainable provision of energy for socioeconomic development.”

One of the main challenges facing the Department is to create an efficient, competitive and responsive economic infrastructure network, something the Department acknowledges is essential:

This will be one of the critical areas for the energy sector as energy security is dependent on an adequate, robust, responsive and reliable infrastructure,” stated Peters.

The implementation of newly built programmes, provision of a framework for IPP participation and independent market operator, maintenance of electricity distribution networks, upgrading of the hydrocarbons supply network and the refining infrastructure, to name but a few, demand our undivided attention if we are to surpass the current economic growth levels and keep inflation within the predetermined parameters,” she continued.

At the same time, the Department has to remain fully aware of its environmental obligations in every action it takes, as Peters continued:

Noting that the energy sector, together with the transport sectors are the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, our contribution towards government’s climate change targets will be a significant one. With planning tools like the Integrated Energy Plan (IEP), and the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), we should be able to configure the primary and secondary energy mix in a manner which supports our climate change targets.”

As South Africa searches for solutions to its energy demands, perhaps the most controversial source under discussion remains nuclear energy. The Department is aware of the need to balance fears with delivery:

Concerns over nuclear energy by various groups cannot be ignored. Countries that have successful nuclear programmes have a high percentage of citizens who understand what nuclear energy is, the risks and benefits associated with it. Nuclear energy remains one of the cleanest and safest energy options for South Africa and will be pursued in line with the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

The acute need to secure reliable energy supplies and the urgent requirement to reduce carbon emissions has put nuclear energy firmly on the agenda as a viable option to be pursued in order to achieve energy mix. Nuclear energy is becoming a preferred solution for energy security and in efforts to mitigate climate challenges. Some countries have showed renewed interest in nuclear energy while others are considering expansion of existing programmes, as is the case in South Africa.”

In July, the Department issued a statement reiterating its commitment to nuclear energy and confirming that the Government has a number of bilateral agreements in place with countries around the world.

The statement underlined how during the BRICS Summit held in Durban in May 2013, South Africa and Russia signed an Agreement which aims to strengthen areas of common interest including energy.

Government has consistently stated its intent to add nuclear energy to the South African energy mix in line with the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 20102030. The IRP is a 20-year electricity security plan, which was developed through a robust public engagement process. The Plan recognises the need for South Africa to utilise 2 diverse energy sources including nuclear,” the statement confirmed.

A process of streamlining has also taken place and includes the creation of the South African National Energy Development Institution (SANEDI) and the streamlining of the Central Energy Fund (CEF) and its subsidiaries.

Part of this process will entail the repositioning of PetroSA to become the National Oil Company poised to play its meaningful role both locally and internationally. Accordingly, we value the role PetroSA will play in our future endeavours of ensuring sustained security of supply, and in this regard, a mutually beneficial partnership with our private sector companies is of paramount importance,” the Department said.

Research into renewable energies remains a top priority and in July it was announced that South Africa’s renewable energy efforts have reached another important milestone with the launch of the country’s first Large Scale High Resolution (250 m) Wind Resource Map.

This map can contribute significantly to fast tracking the development of wind farms as well as to improve government’s access to accurate and verified information on the country’s wind resources.

The Wind Resource Map will feed into the Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer (REIPP) Procurement Programme which requires IPPs to comply with various criteria such as environmental, agricultural and social aspects while access to the grid network is facilitated by government.

The Department of Energy has a lot to do if it is to fulfil its vision, but continues to work hard as it contributes to South Africa’s future.