You are here:

SOUTH AFRICA – Is there a future for Renewable Energy?

South Africa has an abundance of solar and wind energy sources, yet it is heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants and is one of the world's major CO2 emitters. Its policies and readiness to adopt renewables in its energy mix have the potential to raise economic efficiency, improve the standard of living of its population and contribute positively to climate change.

South Africa has an abundance of solar and wind energy sources, yet it is heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants and is one of the world’s major CO2 emitters. Its policies and readiness to adopt renewables in its energy mix have the potential to raise economic efficiency, improve the standard of living of its population and contribute positively to climate change. This however has been a long journey and a major feat to achieve as the affordability of electricity remains a looming concern and a potential constraint in diversification. According to a poll carried out by International Energy Agency (IEA), about three-quarters of the population stated that the government should ensure electricity prices are low; nearly a third of the respondents said that they are not concerned with the energy source – all they want is the cheapest prices, while 14% stated they want sources which have no negative effect on the society. The government will therefore have to make complex choices as it pursues its objectives of reducing and diversifying the environmental impact of the country’s energy mix.

Geographical location of South Africa

South Africa is located in the southern-most tip of Africa sharing common boundaries with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland while the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho is landlocked on the south-east side to SA.  South Africa is also blessed with numerous natural resources such as gold, platinum and diamond amongst various others. It ranks as the 7th largest producer of coal in the world according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) over 85% of the electricity generated comes from coal. Unfortunately, this has made South Africa the largest polluter of C02 in Africa and the 14th largest in the world.

South Africa has an abundance of renewable energy potential which is enough to supply the country’s domestic demand as well as the production of zero-carbon fuels to supply commercial vessels being refueled in its international ports. The adoption of zero-carbon propulsion technologies at South Africa’s ports could attract investment of between 122 and 175 billion Rand in onshore infrastructure by 2030.

Energy Consumption

Coal is the mainstay of South Africa’s energy system amounting to 70% of installed power generation capacity of which the industry sector has used up to 56% of total consumption, while residential purposes have used up to 19%, transport 2%, service 14% and others 9%. The need for renewable energy in South Africa cannot be underestimated as it will serve as an alternative to a fossil fuel-based energy sector.

Renewable Technologies in South Africa


This is a form of renewable energy derived from organic materials such as plants and animals. In Africa, this form of energy is used for non-commercial purposes such as cooking and heating as it entails the burning of woods, charcoal and animal waste. It is however difficult to ascertain exactly how much biomass has been consumed as it is usually used for non-commercial purposes and in rural areas.

Biomass can be converted to electricity and heat through various processes such as combustion, gasification and pyrolysis. Combustion is the burning of biomass in an oxygenated environment to generate heat and/or electricity. An example is the process of heating wood for cooking. Thanks to modern technology, the process of combustion of biomass can be done at a larger scale with different plant configurations specifically built for such a purpose. Co-firing, a similar term as combustion, involves the burning of biomass with another fuel to produce electricity. This technology is particularly useful in South Africa due to its coal-based energy system as it will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This technology is used in the EU, however, it is yet to be embraced in Africa. According to Emiel Hanekamp, a partner in ‘Partners for Innovation’, “beneficiation of biomass residues holds major potential for South Africa in terms of waste minimisation, job creation, CO₂-reductions, and clean, secure and affordable household energy”. The latter was announced as he and a group of other partners are planning to launch new initiatives for biomass beneficiation, among others, through the establishment of a factory called the ‘Coega Biomass Centre’.


Wind has always been a source of energy in South Africa. The Integrated Resource Plan 2019 (IRP 2019) released in October 2019 with a wind allocation of 14.4 GW determined up to 2030. Wind technology has attracted significant investment for the development of projects in the country. The total investment (total project costs), of all projects under construction and projects in the process of closure, is R209.7 billion of which R80.6 billion is for onshore wind Independent Power Producers (IPPs). Over a 12-month period which ended in March 2020 the operational wind projects have reduced CO2 emissions by 6.4Mtons, which already 53% of the total 12.1M Tons annual P50 projection for wind IPPs.


Most areas in South Africa average more than 2 500 hours of sunshine per year, and average solar-radiation levels range between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m2 in one day. The annual 24-hour global solar radiation average is about 220 W/m2 for South Africa, compared with about 150 W/m2 for parts of the USA, and about 100 W/m2 for Europe and the United Kingdom. This makes South Africa’s local resource one of the highest in the world. 

The concentrating solar power (CSP) industry in South Africa has been developing steadily in the past few years when before 2009, no CSP plants were in existence in the country, now six of such plants exist with a combined total installed capacity of over 500 MW while other plants are still in development. South Africa, with an intention of generating over 1.7 GW of renewable energy by 2030, has incorporated the CSP technology into its energy mix.


In 1998, the government introduced the White paper on energy policy which was to ensure the following (1) increasing access to affordable energy services; (2) improving energy governance; (3) stimulating economic development; (4) managing energy-related environmental impacts; and (5) securing supply through diversity. Unfortunately, none of the above stated policies have been met.

The government has looked into various means to diversify the country’s energy mix. In 2003, the government released a white paper detailing how the country will generate 10 TWh of electricity from RE sources i.e.  biomass, wind, solar and small-scale hydro. In May 2011, the government issued an integrated resource strategy, which set a new goal of adding 17,800 MW of renewable energy to the energy mix by 2030.

Also, in 2011, the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme (REIPPP) was set up with its main objectives being centered around the reduction of CO2 emissions, improvement in generating capacity and creating an avenue for economic development. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme (REIPPP) which was implemented 10 years ago was to allow for private developers to competitively bid for the rights to construct new electricity generating plants and then sell the electricity to ESKOM at predetermined prices.

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP,2010-2030) is a long-term planning document for South Africa’s power generation and infrastructure. According to South Africa’s National Development Plan, the plan combines the government’s aim of fair, affordable, and expanded access to energy at affordable tariffs as well as the generation of energy that is environmentally sustainable through reduced emissions and pollution (2030). Because of the rising demand for power in South Africa, it will need to be amended on a regular basis.

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) for 2019 indicated the planned decommissioning of 11.5 GW of old coal-fired power plants, as well as a major new-build consisting of 14.6 GW of utility-scale wind, 6.0 GW of utility-scale solar photovoltaic (PV), and about 5 GW of distributed self-generation by electricity consumers, all supplemented by 3 GW of gas or diesel-fired power and 2 GW of battery storage.

In April 2021, the country announced it aims to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions to 398–440mn tonnes per year by 2030, 28% less than its 2015 set targets with the launch of an updated draft of the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) named eight selected bidders for the Risk Mitigation IPP Procurement Programme (RMIPP) on March 18, 2021, with the goal of procuring 2 GW of power to bridge a supply gap. The announcement was timed to coincide with the release of a request for proposals (RFP) for the acquisition of 2,600 MW under REIPPP bid window5, which includes 1,600 MW of onshore wind and 1,000 MW of solar PV.

South Africa’s energy sector is particularly appealing because the government is committed to renewable energy. It has progressive policies, as indicated by the government’s pledges to the Paris Agreement, international LNG availability, price and infrastructural technological innovation as well as its gas discoveries. Beyond, it has a track record of implementing significant infrastructure programs, such as the Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme (REIPPP), which has procured 6000 MW of renewable energy since 2010 as well as strong institutions.

Feel free to contact the Energy Transition Centre today for questions.

·       Julius Moerder, Head of Energy Transition Centre

·       Oneyka Ojogbo, Head of Energy Transition Centre, Nigeria & West Africa

·       Leon van Der Merwe, Head of Energy Transition Centre, South Africa