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How Does Major Coal Country South Africa Resolve Unemployment Followed by Its Energy Transformation?

published: 2020-10-14 18:30

As one of the top 10 countries in coal production, the structure of power generation for South Africa is primarily formed with coal-fired power generation, and the ratio had reached to 88% in 2018. However, even the major coal country is currently implementing an energy transformation, and hopes to elevate the ratio of green energy to 40% by 2030, which will facilitate a reduction of carbon emission, though such action would indicate that a significant amount of labors will lose their jobs, and that the government will have to begin stipulating relevant “employment transformation”.

In order to achieve the target of a reduction in carbon emission, South Africa plans to reorganize the power structure by a gradual transition from the primary usage of coal to green energy through decommissioning the 34GW coal-fired power plant by 2050 and establishing 20GW of renewable electricity before 2030. The capacity of coal-fired power generation is currently at 39GW as of July 2018, and in terms of the ratio of power generation, coal-fired occupies 88%, whereas renewable energy merely accounts for 6%.

South Africa has only began the propulsion of renewable energy in the past 10 years. The government announced the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP2010-2030) in 2010, and that was when new targets of green energy were stipulated by ministerial officials, which referred to the 40% usage of green electricity by 2030.

South Africa announced the REI4P project, the first procurement project of renewable energy that comprises the independent power generation, manufacturing, procurement, and process of renewable energy, in 2011, and plans to add 17.8GW of renewable energy by 2030, while also reducing the dependency on nuclear energy and coal burning during the period, as well as aiming to achieve localization for the supply chain of renewable energy. The country had released the offer of tax deduction and exemption in 2016.

The IPR 2019 announced by the country last year hopes to add 6GW of large-scale solar energy and 6GW of distributed energy by 2030. Gwede Mantashe, Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, has recently announced that South Africa has purchased 6.8GW of solar and wind energy, and has regulated local public electricity company Eskom, who has been primarily using traditional fossil fuel for power generation, to adopt green electricity.

Thanks to local geographic and latitudinal advantages, South Africa has a very high potential in the development of solar energy with an average daylight of 2,500 hours per year that facilitates an additional 20% of power generation volume if the same degree of solar investment is implemented in the country instead of Europe. Among which, the southern area of South Africa has the highest average solar radiant flux from 2,100 kWh to over 2,300 kWh for every m2, and studies have pointed out a solar land of merely 3,000 km² will be able to satisfy the needs of South Africa.

Compared to coal-fired power generation, solar energy may be an energy of lower cost for South Africa, where most of the cost can be recovered within 5-8 years despite the considerable preliminary expenses for large-scale sites, and is able to increase capacity expeditiously according to the needs of power consumption. The distributed energy can also assist remote areas in establishing micro power grids, which saves the cost in having to pull and install high voltage wires like it did in the past.

However, as it is for all things in the world, not everyone is a winner in energy transformation. Looking at the ratio that is almost 90% and the 39GW capacity for coal-fired power generation, it is concatenated with the livelihood of many, and the shutdown of power plants would indicate the unemployment of these people. Despite the working opportunities introduced by the development of solar and renewable energy, the differentiation in profession is apparent, thus future focuses will have to rely on pension, employment benefits, as well as the transformation and cultivation of talents.

South Africa currently sits at 29% for the unemployment rate, and a whopping 53% for young people. As pointed out by the report of the RES4Africa Foundation, South African Government’s plan in shutting down the 11GW coal-fired power plant will substantially impact cities such as Steve Tshwete and Emalahleni in Mpumalanga, and the province hopes that the government is able to encourage for installations of renewable energy in the original areas of coal.

 (Cover photo source: pixabay)

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