Government's openness to renewable energy does not indicate the immediate demise of coal powered energy, Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Gwede Mantashe told delegates at a wind energy summit in Cape Town this week.
The Windaba 2019 summit, which kicked off on Tuesday morning, came amid speculation around the energy mix, due to be announced in the upcoming long-term plan for energy generation. At the summit the minister said that this long-term plan for energy generation would be sent to Cabinet next week.
Mantashe has in the past urged coal miners to "protect" their industry as it was "under siege". On Tuesday he told delegates there was no need to "kill old technologies in order to allow you to grow".
'Just take the gap'
"Wind and solar energy will help South African society and the economy to address many of its challenges, so just take the gap.
"We can talk about closing coal mines because they are dirty, but I guarantee you, without a plan, we will be breathing clean air in darkness. I am not a coal fundamentalist. I am a fundamentalist about secure, balanced energy supply," said Mantashe.
The minister said a golden opportunity lay ahead for wind energy investors to exploit, as off-grind energy solutions would boost the country’s energy consumption without burdening the national energy grid.
"We are the only nation in the world that celebrates when its electricity consumption goes down. Very strange phenomenon! But when such things occur, it often means that that economy is de-industrialising," Mantashe said.
He said finding diverse energy solutions would make South Africa more competitive in attracting investors looking to produce goods with added value.
"We are losing opportunities to beneficiate in areas such as manganese because our energy offering to investors is not competitive or cost effective. We need to build our energy capacity and invest in new infrastructure build. It must begin now and not after we decommission old projects," he said.
Mantashe said there was room in rural areas, not only to build projects and infrastructure in the renewable space, but also to supply clean and affordable energy for rural households that perform only some household functions with the use of electricity.