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Energy: A South African Perspective
by Robyn L
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa •• Aug. 29, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• In a press conference today, South Africa’s Minister of Energy and Minerals, Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, gave a detailed report of various issues agreed on by African nations during the Summit, and also gave information concerning South Africa’s stance on a few contentious energy issues.

She began by saying that issues which had been agreed upon by all nations (ie: common needs and goals recognized) included:
• Importance of access to biomass technology
• Importance of access to cleaner technology
• International and regional co-operation
• Technological assistance to the poor
• Energy consumption efficiency
• Fulfilling of all NEPAD energy objectives (increase in rural access to energy)

Issues which had become a bone of contention for the discussion included:
• Targets: the debate between what targets were realistic and applicable was brought up; South Africa’s stance was on the belief that common targets should be implemented but local differentiation should be allowed (a contradiction in terms!)
• Launching a global plan of action through the United Nations, or through regional bodies such as the SADC (Southern African Development Community) was discussed; South Africa believed that although the SADC region was fairly well-developed, other regions were lagging behind and thus it was considered better to work through the United Nations.
• The removal of fossil fuel subsidies created much debate: for some countries, this would impact heavily on their economies and employment statistics, whereas others (such as South Africa) had already begun to gradually implement this idea and look for other sources of energy.

The minister also mentioned the advantage of the concurrent side-events at the Summit, saying that the round table involving Eskom (Southern Africa’s energy supplier) gave an opportunity for the top brains of renewable energy resources to meet and discuss renewable energy options (including the revision of South Africa’s white paper on Renewable Energy). The problem of market access was discussed, and the concept of “one family, one solar panel” was introduced.

The program attempting to eradicate domestic coal use was also discussed: domestic coal use contributes 36% to national emissions, and there was talk of approaching various industries to commit to financing this effort.

Leaps forward in renewable energy were also revealed: yesterday, South Africa launched wind turbines in Cape Town, to add to the two wind farms already contributing to the electricity grid, and the largest solar panel in Sub-Saharan Africa was also launched (and is already contributing to the grid).

True to the press conference format, there were opportunities for various reporters to question the minister: a BBC representative questioned the concept of “one family, one solar panel,” asking about storage and cost limitations. The Minister replied by stating that the target market for this initiative was middle to upper income groups, i.e., those who are already consumers due to capital advantage. She also added that the low-cost housing that was being built throughout South Africa would include a solar panel, minimizing actual cost for low-income groups.

Another question around nuclear energy was raised: South Africa took the stand of categorizing nuclear energy as clean energy (while acknowledging storage limitations) – the Cape Town Koeburg plant contributes 8% to the national power grid. Smaller modulators were being implemented and if they proved successful, others would be pioneered. The point was strongly made, however, that South Africa was the only country in the world to voluntarily give up all nuclear weapons and arms capacity, and continues to be a nuclear arms-free country. A Canadian representative questioned the Minister on energy and transport issues: he claimed that after travelling in Johannesburg for a few weeks, he had gathered the following information:
• Trucks only underwent a safety inspection when being sold
• There was no system of mandatory engine checks
• Leaded fuel was still available
• Transport fleets were aged
He stated that all these factors were contributing towards a wasteful use of energy, and an increase in pollutants emitted to the atmosphere. The Minister responded that focus was being given to the “informal” taxi business, and a process of taxi recapitalization whereby taxis are inspected before given official status was being followed. She also claimed that South Africa was following a no leaded fuel by 2006 campaign, in order to allow industry and consumers a sufficient adjustment period. She also stated that all other questions he had directed would be addressed by the up and coming parliamentary bill that will be submitted for debate shortly.

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