The bustling realm of COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, the focus on global energy transitions often overlooks the challenges faced by developing countries. South Africa, in particular, finds itself in the midst of a substantial energy and grid crisis as it grapples with the aftermath of decisions made during the COP27 UN Climate Change Conference.
Eskom, South Africa’s state-run utility responsible for 80% of the nation’s electricity, relies heavily on coal-fired power generation. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government has aimed to meet climate commitments by limiting new coal plants and promoting wind and solar energy. However, the unintended consequence has been reminiscent of power struggles witnessed in California and other U.S. regions, with frequent shortages and blackouts.
To alleviate the crisis, the World Bank approved a $1 billion loan, emphasizing the conversion of older coal plants to renewables. Yet, with rising electricity demand, this approach may fall short. Enter Total Energies and Shell, major oil companies proposing an innovative solution involving the development of substantial natural gas deposits off South Africa’s coast.
These offshore natural gas reservoirs, estimated at 60 trillion cubic feet, coupled with an additional 200 trillion cubic feet onshore, offer a promising alternative to coal-fired power. Mirroring successful U.S. initiatives over the past 15 years, this approach could significantly reduce emissions and ensure a stable power grid for decades.
TotalEnergies secured the license for offshore development, overcoming opposition from anti-fossil fuel advocates concerned about seismic surveys’ impact on marine life. Environmental groups, including Greenpeace, raised issues about the potential threat to east African dugongs, an endangered species. However, similar concerns have been effectively addressed in the U.S., where regulators and industry have implemented technologies to mitigate seismic survey impacts on marine life.
Shell, for instance, carefully timed its seismic surveys to avoid whale migration seasons and implemented measures such as soft-start techniques. Such precautions, honed through years of research, are now standard for offshore developers globally.
In essence, South Africa faces the common challenge of balancing climate concerns with the need for a reliable power grid. Drawing on the experience of more developed nations, the country has an opportunity to leverage its abundant natural gas resources to achieve climate goals and ensure grid stability. As the U.S. has demonstrated, there is no reason South Africa should be denied the chance to utilize its domestic resources for the greater good.