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Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The newly reconfigured ministry of electricity and energy will aggressively pursue procurement of renewable energy as part of SA’s energy mix to arrest rolling power cuts and improve electricity distribution and generation performance. 

This comes after the decision by President Cyril Ramaphosa to reconfigure the mineral resources & energy department that was established under minister Gwede Mantashe. Ramaphosa last week reappointed Mantashe as the minister of mineral resources & petroleum but merged the energy part of his brief with Kgosientsho Ramokgopa’s electricity responsibility, separating the department from the presidency.

The reconfiguration also involved the dissolution of the public enterprises department responsible for overseeing Eskom. Oversight of the state-owned power utility now lies with Ramokgopa, who says that with his expanded responsibilities this will see the department being “ultra-aggressive on the renewables side”. 

This differs from the posture of his predecessor, Mantashe, who was regarded by energy market watchers as a fossil fuel dinosaur, often putting him in the crosshairs of lobby groups fighting climate change.

“I am going to be ultra-aggressive on the renewable energy side. I think we have taken a bit longer than what is necessary so we will be ultra-aggressive,” Ramokgopa said during a press conference on Monday.

“I am a firm believer that it’s an [energy] mix that matters. You are going to see an exponential share of renewables in the energy mix and we need to signal to the market our intention to go that route and it must materialise.” 

“I will sit with everyone ... the commercial banks project sponsors, Eskom ... we are going to be leaders on this continent in relation to renewables.” 

Ramokgopa’s expanded powers include implementing the draft Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) 2023, which will be used by the government and Eskom to make decisions about the procurement of new generation capacity and other energy planning matters.

The IRP 2023 has been widely criticised for being flawed, lacking ambition (especially for cutting back on renewable energy procurement) and threatening to trap SA in many more years of load-shedding while procuring too much new capacity from expensive sources of energy such as nuclear and gas.

The final draft of the plan is expected to be released later in 2024 after the March deadline for public comments. 

Eskom breached the 100-day mark with no load-shedding on Friday, making a significant improvement in generation capacity for the power utility. However, Ramokgopa said the country was dealing with a new crisis where municipalities were forced to implement load reduction due to underinvestment in electricity infrastructure by municipalities.

“But we have seen that there is little to no investment that has been made in replenishing maintenance, the upkeep and protection and modernisation of this infrastructure. As a result of that, municipalities are under severe strain and they initiate what they call load reduction. So that has nothing to do with the performance of Eskom. It has everything to do with downstream action on the part of municipalities. That’s the crisis that is confronting us,” said Ramokgopa.

Meanwhile, in his weekly newsletter, Ramaphosa complimented Eskom for successfully securing electricity for 100 consecutive days.

“Thanks to the diligent implementation by Eskom of its generation operational recovery plan as well as a stepped-up maintenance schedule, there has been a marked improvement in the performance of the power stations that produce the bulk of SA’s electricity,” said Ramaphosa.

“The improvement in the reliability of power supply has been a relief for households, who have been able to go about their daily lives without the inconvenience of load-shedding.”

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