Gas is 'sensible, practical' way to migrate SA to a low-carbon future, says Eskom's De Ruyter

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Eskom CEO André de Ruyter.
Eskom CEO André de Ruyter.
Deon Raath/Netwerk24
  • Gas has a significant role in South Africa's energy future, with the government planning to procure 3GW later this year.
  • Eskom's CEO André de Ruyter says gas-fired power can ensure system stability as the country shifts to cleaner energy solutions.
  • South Africa's Gas Master Plan setting out demand and means of supply is to be finalised by March 2023, according to a DMRE official.

Although gas is a fossil fuel, which is polluting, South Africa's energy future can't escape it. So much so, Eskom's own modelling indicates that a shift to renewables will require dispatchable power to ensure system stability – and that can be provided from gas, according to the power utility's CEO André de Ruyter.

De Ruyter spoke during a panel discussion at the Enlit Africa conference on Tuesday. The conference is an annual gathering of energy industry players from across the continent.

Responding to a question on the choice of gas as a transition fuel, which is still an emitter of the greenhouse gas methane, De Ruyter said it is a challenge that Eskom grapples with.

De Ruyter described South Africa's power system as an island. The country does not have the luxury of tapping into alternative energies from its neighbours in the way that Germany relies on France for nuclear or Norway for hydropower when its wind turbines are not generating power.

"We need dispatchable power to make up for the variability we inevitably see from renewable energy. Renewable energy only works when the wind blows or the sun shines," he explained.

Eskom's modelling shows that there cannot be a stable system without accessing a resource like coal. De Ruyter said that Eskom will be a significant user of coal for an extended period, even beyond 2035, after 22GW of power stations are decommissioned. But gas is less polluting than coal and can provide a secure supply.

Eskom anticipates an investment in 3 000MW to 6 000MW of gas-fired generation we will be able to achieve system stability, De Ruyter said.

READ | ANALYSIS | Why you should care about where your energy comes from

De Ruyter acknowledged there are risks associated with gas – for example, when it comes to pricing, which is influenced by international commodities.  Recently the world has seen energy prices like gas, surge on the back of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has raised supply concerns. For this reason, domestic gas resources would be "first prize", he said.

Gas might not be ideal for achieving zero-carbon generation, but it is a "sensible, practical" means to migrate to a low carbon future, he explained.

Eskom's general manager of the Just Energy Transition, Mandy Rambharos, in a separate panel discussion, shared that Eskom has completed an engineering study for the repurposing of Komati, which shuts down its last coal-fired unit later this year. The utility wants to incorporate solar PV, wind and battery storage at the plant. The plant is in Mpumalanga and could potentially access the Rompco gas pipeline from Mozambique. The same is true for Eskom's Hendrina power station. The gas will ensure system stability, she explained.

There is also a possibility of Eskom having a gas plant in Richards Bay, Rambarhos said. But a lot of Eskom's gas strategy depends on gas price. "It's really whether we can get gas in at correct price."

Rambharos added that Eskom would likely want to source gas from the southern African region.

Thabang Audat, chief director of energy planning at the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), shared views that South Africa is seeking gas from the Southern African Development Community region and indigenous gas. Other options are to expand the current Rompco pipeline. There are also expectations that Total Energies exploration block 11B/12B or the Brulpadda find off the east coast, will start yielding gas by 2027, said Audat.

The DMRE is finalising the request for proposals to procure 3 000MW of gas-to-power by October this year. "We believe the programme will stimulate gas demand in South Africa."

The department is also finalising a Gas Master Plan, which will outline where gas demand will come from and the supply infrastructure required.

This plan is expected to be finalised by March 2023. It requires Cabinet approval.

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