Gas is a “sensible and practical” way to migrate SA to a low-carbon future, says Eskom’s De Ruyter

Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter.

  • Gas plays a significant role in South Africa’s energy future, with the government planning to procure 3GW by the end of the year.
  • Eskom CEO André de Ruyter says gas power can ensure system stability as the country moves to cleaner energy solutions.
  • According to a DMRE official, South Africa’s master plan for gas defining demand and means of supply must be finalized by March 2023.

Although gas is a fossil fuel that pollutes, South Africa’s energy future cannot escape it. So much so that Eskom’s modeling indicates that switching to renewable energy will require dispatchable energy to ensure system stability – and that it can be supplied by gas, according to André de Ruyter, CEO of the electricity company.

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

Responding to a question about choosing the gas as a transition fuel, which is still an emitter of methane, a greenhouse gas, De Ruyter said it’s a challenge Eskom grapples with.

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

“We need dispatchable energy to compensate for the variability we inevitably see from renewable energy. Renewable energy only works when the wind blows or the sun is shining,” he explained.

Eskom’s modeling shows that there cannot be a stable system without accessing a resource such as coal. De Ruyter said Eskom will be a major user of coal for a long time, even beyond 2035, after the decommissioning of 22 GW of power plants. But gas is less polluting than coal and can provide a secure supply.

Eskom expects an investment of 3,000 MW to 6,000 MW of gas generation that we will be able to achieve system stability, said De Ruyter.

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De Ruyter acknowledged that there are risks associated with gas, for example when it comes to prices, which are influenced by international commodities. Recently the world has seen prices for energy such as gas rise in the wake of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has raised supply problems. For this reason, national gas resources would be the “first prize”, he said.

Gas may not be ideal for achieving zero-carbon generation, but it is a “sensible and practical” means of migrating to a low-carbon future, he explained.

Eskom CEO of Just Energy Transition, Mandy Rambharos, shared in a separate panel discussion that Eskom has completed an engineering study for the reuse of Komati, which will close its last coal-fired unit later this year. The utility wants to incorporate solar photovoltaic, wind and battery storage into the system. The plant is located in Mpumalanga and could potentially access the Rompco pipeline from Mozambique. The same goes for Eskom’s Hendrina power plant. The gas will ensure the stability of the system, she explained.

There is also the possibility that Eskom has a gas plant in Richards Bay, Rambarhos said. But much of Eskom’s gas strategy hinges on the price of gas. “It really is if we can get the gas at the right price.”

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

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

The DMRE is finalizing the request for proposals for the supply of 3,000 MW from gas to energy by October this year. “We believe the program will stimulate gas demand in South Africa.”

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

This plan is expected to be finalized by March 2023. Requires cabinet approval.

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