Ebrahim Patel. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS / BLOOMBERG
Ebrahim Patel. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS / BLOOMBERG

SA is taking steps to shift troubled state power utility Eskom, which generates about 90% of its output from coal, toward producing more sustainable electricity.

“We’re all looking at Eskom’s model having to embrace and include renewable energy,” trade and industry minister Ebrahim Patel said in an interview on Saturday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) leaders summit in Osaka, Japan.

Independent companies produce the bulk of SA’s green power. While Eskom wants to diversify its energy mix, it will need funding to build solar plants and wind farms that has not yet been provided for under its current tariff allocation, according to Deidre Herbst, Eskom’s environmental manager.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is considering whether to back a proposal by an advisory panel to improve Eskom’s debt terms by closing polluting coal plants early to make way for renewable energy. The utility has amassed more than $30bn of debt and is not selling enough power to cover its costs.

While policy issues of pricing and costs for Eskom will need to be addressed by public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan, Patel said the trade ministry is also involved.

“We’ve talked to investors elsewhere in the world, we’re identifying whether there are technologies that can assist with energy utilisation,” said Patel. “Some of it would be renewable energy, some of it would be the cleaning of coal. Some of it would be bringing additional capacity to the country such as wind and solar.”

Climate change was a topic of heated debate at the G20 meeting, eventually resulting in US President Donald Trump splitting from the group’s other nations by rebuffing the need for the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions.

“The South African call is that there’s got to be a bolder approach in the future on climate change,” Patel said. “The talks went as far as they could go, but if we want to make a difference, then at future meetings of the G20 there has to be boldness in the thinking of the leadership.”

Bloomberg