Governing electricity in South Africa: wind, coal and power struggles

TitleGoverning electricity in South Africa: wind, coal and power struggles
Publication TypeOther Working Paper
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsBaker, L
Secondary TitleThe Governance of Clean Development Working Paper Series No. 015
Keywordsclean coal, electricity, Eskom, feed in tariff, governance, Medupi, minerals energy complex, political economy, South Africa, wind power

South Africa’s electricity policy is at a crossroads. Its historical dependence on cheap coal for approximately 90 per cent of its electricity generation is under threat from a variety of factors. This paper firstly examines how the governance of South Africa’s electricity is inextricably bound up with the country’s historical dependence on cheap coal for export-oriented industry and complex political and economic legacy which has shaped its minerals-energy complex (Fine and Rustomjee 1996). Secondly it finds that despite regulatory hold-ups and departmental tensions, power dynamics in the electricity sector are shifting with the potential introduction of private renewable energy generation into the energy mix. Of this, wind is set to form the largest component. Meanwhile Eskom’s Medupi coal-fired power plant deemed as essential to the country’s generation expansion has been redefined as a ‘clean coal’ power plant following a World Bank loan of $3 billion in April 2010. The paper concludes that while vested interests in the country’s coal-based industrial trajectory are still very influential, they are simultaneously challenged with rising coal costs, imminent national electricity supply shortages and increasing tariffs, a funding crisis of the electricity utility, the demands of climate change mitigation and emerging stakeholders in renewable generation.



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