In order to assist South Africa in stabilizing its electricity grid, the Chinese ambassador Chen Xiaodong has volunteered to provide 66 GW of solar equipment to the country.
Chen made the announcement during the Sandton, northern Johannesburg-based China-South Africa New Energy Investment and Cooperation Conference.
The ambassador also mentioned that China would contribute equipment, skilled labor, and materials to help South Africa’s energy grid develop.
Eskom, the country’s state-run energy utility, has struggled to meet demand, which has sparked interest in alternative energy sources like solar.1
“Advanced cooperation in technical training and improved professional capacity,” said Chen at the conference. “It is a pleasure to see that the China Energy Investment Corporation has already been in communication with Eskom. China’s state grid will send a team of experts to South Africa very soon to provide technical advice.
“At present, even though South Africa is experiencing unprecedented challenges of power shortage, we are glad to see that relevant efforts are seeing quite positive effects. As South Africa’s good brother, good friend, and good partner, China [is] very much ready for the challenge here and we are ready to provide support to South Africa using our capacity.”
Reducing Carbon Emissions from the South African Energy Industry
China potentially lending expertise to South Africa’s energy grid will be of special interest.
This is because the grid has struggled significantly in recent months to meet South Africa’s electricity needs.
Eskom’s acting CEO Calib Cassim, warned South Africans in May to prepare for “a difficult winter” because the nation already experiences up to 12 hours of power outages every 32 hours.
This is mostly due to South Africa’s ambition to decarbonize its energy mix and a lack of renewable energy alternatives to the main fossil fuels industry in the nation.
In an effort to decarbonize its energy mix, South Africa declared at COP21 that seven of its 15 coal facilities would close by 2030. However, it is unclear how Eksom can make up for this shortfall in electricity output.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), coal power produced little over one million gigawatt hours of energy in South Africa in 2020. This is slightly more than the 15,000 GWh produced by all renewable sources combined.
There has been progress the in the first five months of 2022 including the conversion of the decommissioned coal plant Komati into a 150 MW solar facility and the installation of US$119.2 million (ZAR2.2 billion) of rooftop domestic solar.
However, the fundamental imbalance of the country’s power sector has significantly reduced the nation’s overall electricity generation.
Using data from Hong Kong-based analysts CEIC, it can be shown that South Africa’s energy production decreased from 23,801GWh in July 2007 to a low of 16,709GWh in February 2023, before making a little comeback to 19,107GWh the following month.
Delivering an Energy Transition
However, transferring a lot of solar panels to South Africa from China won’t address this issue right once. South Africa’s minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, was eager to emphasize the significance of the human and social components of the energy transition.
“The world is, indeed, as has been pointed out, undergoing very fast changes, as far as the energy situation is concerned,” said Gordhan at the Johannesburg conference. “However, as those changes take place, we need to be very mindful of, not just the ‘energy’ part of the energy transition, but also the ‘just’ part of the energy transition. That is something that I saw in China a few weeks ago, where, at least on the logistics side, but on the energy side as well, too many operations were happening without any human beings inside.
“This is something that South Africans and Africans need to be exposed to, that one of the consequences of the kind of transition we are undergoing is the impact on workers, the impact on current businesses, and the manner in which we manage the ‘just’ part of the just energy transition,” added Gordhan. “Our first opportunity in South Africa is as we undergo those changes at the Komati Power Station, but subsequently others as well.”
- JP Casey, ‘China offers 66GW of solar infrastructure to South Africa,’ PV Tech, 14 June 2023, https://www.pv-tech.org/china-offers-66gw-of-solar-infrastructure-to-south-africa/