South Africa’s Coal Addiction

The population of the Republic of South Africa is approximately 59.31 million people[1]. In 2018, 91.2% of the people in this country located on the southern tip of the African continent had  access to electricity[2].

In 2018, South Africa’s economy was ranked 37th in the world in gross domestic product (GDP)[3]. The country’s economy is dependent on the export of automobiles, technology, textiles, steel, chemicals, and minerals including platinum, gold, and chromium.

In 2016, South Africa signed the Paris Climate Agreement[4], committed to a peak, plateau, and decline greenhouse gas emission program. South Africa’s plan is for emission to peak between 2020 to 2025, plateau for approximately ten years and then begin to rapidly decline.

In 2018, South Africa’s state-owned electric company Eskom used coal (89.4%), nuclear energy (5.5%), and renewable energy (5.1%) to generate electricity in the country[5].Wind, solar, and hydropower are the primary sources of renewable energy in South Africa.

In September 2020, the South African government has announced a plan to add 6,800 MW of wind and solar projects from 2022 onwards. The government will continue to use tenders to solicit bids to build the new renewable energy projects.

New, utility scale renewable energy projects in South Africa include:

  • 132 MW Solar Projects South African power producer, BioTherm has just commissioned the 46 MW Aggeneys solar plant and the 86 MW Konkoonsies II solar plant. The Aggeneys solar project is located approximately 300 miles north of the country’s capital, Cape Town. The Konkoonsies II solar project is located approximately 35 miles northeast of the Aggeneys solar project.
  • 33 MW Wind Project – BioTherm has just commissioned the Excelsior wind farm, which is located approximately 125 miles east of Cape Town.
  • 68 MW Solar Project – A consortium formed by the American investment firm; Ideas Fund has just commissioned the Bokamoso solar power plant in Leeudoringstad in the North West Province, approximately 650 miles northeast of Cape Town.
  • 110 MW Wind Project – American renewable energy company, Mainstream Renewable Power is nearing completion of the Perdekraal East wind project, which is located approximately 50 miles northeast of Cape Town. The wind project is scheduled to be commissioned by year-end 2020.

South Africa, like the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have used inexpensive, domestic coal to fuel its power plants. Like the PRC, South Africa now suffers from toxic air pollution in its major cities and industrial centers.

South Africa also has significant renewable energy resources, including solar, hydropower, biomass, and wind which could power all of the country’s electrical power requirements. The fundamental question is when will South Africa’s government take more aggressive action to kick the coal habit and turn to clean, green, equally inexpensive renewable energy?

Jack Kerfoot

Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”



[1] South Africa Population (2020) –  October 9, 2020

[2] South Africa – The World Bank Group

[3] Gross Domestic Product 2019 – World Bank DataBank

[4] Carbon Brief “Paris 2015: Tracking Country Climate Pledges”

[5] International Energy Agency – South Africa Energy Outlook, November 9, 2019

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