- Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe says renewable energy is now cheap and must be procured faster.
- He added that his "coal fundamentalist" label must go.
- The next bid window for procurement will open next month.
Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe – branded a "coal fundamentalist" by his detractors – on Wednesday was at pains to rebrand, emphasising his support for renewable energy, which he described as cheap and SA’s progress good, but not fast enough.
He was addressing the Solar Power Africa conference in Cape Town, hosted by the SA Photovoltaic Industry Association.
Mantashe, who is a member of the central committee of the SA Communist Party (SACP), also left his trademark red tie behind, an item he often wears when addressing industry. He has been under fire for slow procurement of renewable energy, which is behind the schedule laid out in the Integrated Resource Plan, and dragging his feet on energy market reforms.
But, over the past week, reforms to the electricity supply industry have gathered speed, with Mantashe gazetting for comment a Bill that will enable the licensing of an independent transmission company and the buying and selling of electricity between multiple players. He has also gazetted a new price regime for users. Most independent producers will be wind or solar PV generators.
Addressing industry CEOs, Mantashe said he had prioritised addressing the conference despite Cabinet commitments because he wanted to dispel the myth that he was not in favour of renewable energy.
"We are in a country where energy is generated by a 15-strong coal fleet. There is a commitment to move from a high carbon emissions economy to a low emissions economy. Everybody is committed to that. The debate is how do we do we navigate through that transition," he said.
Mantashe reminded industry that over the next decade, government’s IRP would see renewable energy increase by 80% and coal decline by 20% as a share of the energy mix.
"To me that is a systematic process and responds to the needs of the economy, that is how I see it … you will be the fastest-growing sector," he said.
Opponents of independently produced power based in trade unions and the SACP, of which Mantashe was until recently the chairperson, have frequently used the high cost of the earliest rounds of the renewable energy procurement programme to argue against continuing private procurement.
But Mantashe said that while first three rounds of procurement, were expensive, this was the premium necessary to attract a new technology into the electricity generation oand was "visionary" on part of government.
The fifth round of procurement, which is the first he has undertaken as minister was providing lowest cost energy, next to Koeberg, which is the lowest of all Eskom generators, he said.
"Many people don’t appreciate that this is because investments have been made over time and that has brought the cost down. Today renewable energy is giving us electricity at 47cents a unit," he said.
The sixth round of renewable energy procurement will be released next month, he said.