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South Africa needs a coherent approach to the energy crisis

In response to the State of the Nation Address on 9 February 2023, WWF believes there is an urgent need for a more coherent approach to energy planning.

Beyond electricity, South Africa cannot continue to design its energy system based on ad-hoc responses. Not only has the current national integrated energy plan not been enacted, but it is also woefully out of date.

While reforms such as subsidising rooftop solar for households and businesses to feed back into the grid are to be welcomed, we must guard against leaving poor communities behind. If middle to high-income households are incentivised to defect from the grid, this would effectively put the burden of the cost of grid maintenance and management on low-income households.

As we wait to hear more details in the budget speech, we would urge the Minister of Finance to divert a significant portion of financial support to low-income households. Appropriate incentives, redirected subsidies and dedicated programmes would ensure that, in the short and medium term, all South Africans, irrespective of income levels, benefit from this emerging energy market and enjoy energy security. Socially owned renewable options for low-income households should be a key component of the just energy transition.

The announcement of the State of Disaster and the creation of a Minister of Electricity all point towards an ad hoc response to the energy crisis. The integration of mineral resources and energy into one department made sense when energy was synonymous with the extraction of coal, but the large potential for cheap alternative energy that has arisen over the last decade has changed that. However the separation of electricity from the energy portfolio has the potential to further undermine coherent energy planning.

WWF is also disappointed that gas is still on the table as part of a short-term, quick-fix to the country’s energy crisis. The long lead times in gas exploration and exploitation mean that no local gas can be provided within a five-year time period, likely we would still be developing such fields well into the 2030s. Moreover, running these gas plants will inevitably lock us into a fossil fuel future not aligned to our carbon emissions reduction targets, and billions of tax payer money will have to be forked out to make this archaic technology cost-competitive.

The mention of a plan for emergency power procurement that can be deployed within six months to close the immediate gap should consider options that comply with a long-term energy vision and not lock in emissions that prevent us achieving NDC objectives.

For an equitable and inclusive transition to a low carbon, renewable-based energy system in South Africa, we should tap into our country’s vast renewable energy potential while ensuring access to clean and affordable energy for all.

Rooftop solar is one of the solutions to South Africa's energy crisis but we need a more coherent plan to ensure equity for all.

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