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Service Issue 79

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Service magazine addresses key issues related to government leadership and service delivery in South Africa.

S energy I am from the

S energy I am from the school of thought that says, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.” We know the average age of Eskom’s power stations is 42 years and the most recently built coal-fired power stations in South Africa, Kusile and Medupi, are underperforming and consequently blamed for sinking the economy. It doesn’t take long to understand there is something wrong with the country’s energy provision services. Eskom’s coal fleet problems It is as if two kings are involved in a battle over which energy technologies should be adopted while ordinary people suffer the consequences. have worsened unreasonably. There has not been any accountability, while electrification working groups have not helped to mitigate loadshedding. As such, the renewable energy activists are leading the debate, having positioned themselves as a pragmatic solution to Eskom’s problems. The dilemma is that the very same Eskom that has financial challenges will need to buy electricity generated by independent power producers. We know the utility’s balance sheet is not healthy, so it cannot implement any strategic diversification options for the business. A few voices have called for the privatisation of Eskom to raise capital, but this will not translate to a well-functioning coal power fleet in the short to medium term. All the above energy system challenges signal a deep-rooted problem that has tied ordinary South Africans to a state-owned entity (SOE) on the brink of collapse. The national fiscus position does not allow the government to keep funding unsustainable SOEs such as Eskom and SA Airways. So, what could be the missing link in our energy policy? Is it time for the government to appoint the country’s energy sector experts to government departments? I believe it is high time the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) establishes an energy think tank division responsible for energy security in South Africa. It should hire full-time experts. While the two schools of thought clash on energy options, the state should have the technical capacity to decide on the best technologies, considering several factors such as value addition to the GDP, job creation and sustainability principles. Some studies show an energy transition can be unjust. Countries that have embarked on the transition have had winners and losers. South Africa has no sound plan for a just energy transition, and although we First published by Daily Maverick 30 | Service magazine

energy S know coal power stations will phase out, there is no dedicated team to evaluate diversification options for the coal economy. We have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change, but this simply means we need to reduce our dependence on the coal economy. The status quo group has also called for “clean coal technologies”, which simply means capturing carbon dioxide for reuse. One coal-sector employee has at least three dependants, so it is prudent to ask: is the government going to offer just energy transition packages for those who are likely to be losers? Several social plans could be considered for a just energy transition, but at the moment there is poor coordination on the transition. While the two schools of thought debate different energy technologies there are ordinary South Africans who will eventually lose their jobs and probably be unemployable in these economic conditions. Coal miners are more vulnerable and have the highest unemployment potential in the near future. It is as if two kings are involved in a battle over which energy technologies should be adopted while ordinary people suffer the consequences. That South Africa cannot manufacture components such as solar PV panels more cheaply than a country like China means the state needs to dig deeper for a just energy transition that falls between the two schools of thought. S Service magazine | 31

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