South Africa: Transitioning from Coal Reliance to Gas Power Generation

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Dennis Seemala, HOD of Electricity Licensing, Compliance, and Dispute Resolution for Nersa; Dr. Tshepo Mokoka, Group COO for the CEF; Adewale Feyemi, Managing Director for TotalEnergies South Africa; Vuyelwa Mahanyele, Regional Sales Director for GE Gas and Power and Akash Latchman, Senior Vice President for Gas Sourcing and Operations for Sasol

With Africa’s energy transition comprising an overarching discussion point at African Energy Week (AEW) 2021 in Cape Town, the platform session on transitioning from coal reliance to gas power generation in South Africa provided African stakeholders with the opportunity to establish their own strategies to drive the transition.

Taking place on Wednesday, the country spotlight on South Africa’s energy mix provided a consolidated view of the challenges and opportunities within the country’s energy transition. Panel participants included representatives from South Africa’s top energy organisations including the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy; Africa Director Risk Advisory Service Eurasia Group; CEF; Sasol; PetroSA; TotalEnergies – South Africa; the Strategic Fuel Fund; CGS; Nersa; and GE Gas Power. With a mandate to promote the role of natural gas in South Africa’s energy mix, recognizing the benefits the resource brings regarding power generation, the panel session offered an African perspective on coal, natural gas, and the continent’s energy transition.

“Gas should play quite a significant role in a just energy transition in South Africa,” stated Akash Latchman, Senior Vice President for Gas Sourcing and Operations for Sasol, adding that, “To unleash the potential of gas is critical in alleviating energy poverty in South Africa.”

“Every time there is a discussion surrounding the just energy transition, various technologies are considered in its permutations, with clean coal technologies being noticeably excluded,” noted Dr. Tshepo Mokoka, Group COO for the CEF, who acknowledged that, “If you are well-endowed as a country with a resource, there is an opportunity to develop clean technologies in relation to coal. What needs to be looked at are the socioeconomic implications that this conversion has.”

Africa is faced with a two-pronged challenge, the first of which is the continent’s significant energy crisis – in which over 600 million people currently lack access to electricity and over 900 million lack access to clean cooking – and the second, the global climate crisis. While western nations are opting for the immediate end to fossil fuel utilisation, oil and gas is critical for Africa if the continent is to address energy poverty. At the South African panel discussion, participants emphasised how natural gas has emerged as the ideal solution to both of these challenges. Representing the ideal transitionary resource, as well as a readily available resource, gas may be the solution the country, and continent, needs to accelerate its energy transition and meet domestic demand.

Adewale Feyemi, Managing Director for TotalEnergies South Africa, noted that, “In South Africa, there is a need for energy, and what role is gas going to play?” Noting its decarbonizing potential, he added that, “Gas is going to be part of the transition. Being a good ally for renewables, we are committed to making sure that these resources are brought to shore as early as possible, and we need to work closely and collaborate with the [relevant] authorities.”

“Once we have gas in the country, from gas-to-power projects, we can ignite other industries to start using gas,” added Dennis Seemala, HOD of Electricity Licensing, Compliance, and Dispute Resolution for Nersa.

While South Africa struggles with ongoing electricity challenges, the utilization of natural gas as a power generation source offers newfound benefits for both the country and the wider region. The significant resources available in southern African nations – the most notable being Mozambique with over 180 trillion cubic feet of reserves in the Rovuma Basin alone – have established new opportunities for gas-to-power in the region.

Already, there exists cross-border infrastructure whereby South Africa can make use of Mozambique’s resources, which, coupled with recent discoveries made in 2019 offshore South Africa, are positioning the country as a natural gas powerhouse. As the continent makes moves to transition to a green economy, natural gas is undoubtedly the best resource for addressing energy poverty while mitigating climate change. Resources in key areas including Senegal, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, and many more, provide a critical opportunity for the continent to accelerate socio-economic growth and clean energy expansion. With the recent implementation of the African Continent Free Trade Agreement in January 2021, opportunities for enhanced cross border trade have opened up trade, liberalized markets, and incentivized the continental utilization of natural gas.

“There’s a bigger role for gas to play,” noted Vuyelwa Mahanyele, Regional Sales Director for GE Gas and Power, stating that, “In terms of the role gas is going to play around the transition, it is important that we bring everyone along the value chain. There’s an entire value chain downstream where there is the expectation of beneficiation around that chain. As we transition to a lower carbon economy, gas is going to play an incredible role in partnership with renewables.”

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