Honourable Premier, Panyaza Lesufi;
Honourable Minister Sihle Zikalala;
Deputy Ministers Pinky Kekana and Judith Tshabalala;
Honourable Members of Executive Council;
The Director General, Mr Kopung Ralikontsane;
Honourable Members of the Free State Legislature;
Honourable Mayors, Speakers and Chief Whips;
Honourable Members of the National Assembly and the NCOP;
Directors-General, Heads of Department and Municipal Managers;
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me take this opportunity to welcome you all to this important Free State Energy Security Indaba. Thank you for honouring our invitation. It is heartening to see so many people representing various companies, organisations and entities that play significant roles in the energy sector.
Words alone cannot express our gratitude for all of you having taken the time to come share your experiences, inputs and wisdom in shaping our current and future energy pathways. We all share the same energy security challenges, and the rewards of an energy secure country will be for us all to appreciate if we work together.
Perhaps let me start by joining the millions of South Africans in congratulating the Springboks, die Bokke, Amabokhobokho for their 2023 Rugby World Cup enthralling victory against New Zealand. Amongst them brilliant young athletes i.e., Ox Nché, Cobus Reinach, Bongi Mbonambi and Fitness Coach, Bonagni Qumbu.
Collectively, the Springboks continue to make us proud. Their decisive victory is expressive of the power of sport to bridge the social, racial and cultural divide that would otherwise keep us apart. This Free State Energy Security Indaba is no ordinary gathering. It marks the beginning of a journey to bring about the much-needed energy security in our province and beyond.
And in our special ways as experts, investors, funders and policy-makers we share the same concern of building an energy secure country.
We surely carry the collective responsibility of ensuring the aspirations of a thriving, prosperous and developmental South Africa are attained. But energy is the challenge of our time. No country has not been affected.
Every day we are faced with challenges of inadequate energy supply, high energy costs, poor energy infrastructure and increasing energy demand.
Our economy is slowing down under the weight of energy insecurity.
Productivity is decreasing. Some businesses are shutting down. Jobs are being lost. Inflation is soaring. Households are pushed into poverty. But we are not deterred. That is why we have embarked on a deliberate process to enhance our contribution to the country’s energy initiatives.
We are determined to position the Free State as the country’s central energy security hub. Not only does the geographic centrality of our province make it cost-effective in facilitating trade, but also ensuring easy and convenient access to markets throughout the country.
But this is not all.
The Free State energy landscape presents immense investment opportunities in natural gas, solar power, coal, uranium, hydropower, wind and hydrogen to power the future of the country.
Thanks to these unique features, the possibilities of turning the Free State into South Africa’s central one-stop-shop energy hub are endless. The Free State's strategic location and geographic proximity to five other provinces, as well as the neighbouring Lesotho, provide several advantages for the province to become an energy hub in South Africa.
This connectivity makes it easier to transport energy resources, equipment, and personnel to and from the region.
Being a hub for energy production and distribution will facilitate more pronounced collaboration and trade with regards to the energy sector in the country. This will decidedly lead to the efficient use of energy resources and infrastructure.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt that our geographic location allows us to serve as a central point for the integration of energy into the national grid. This will play a key role in transmitting energy from various sources to meet the energy demands of our country, contributing to a more reliable and resilient energy network.
We have an MOU with the University of the Free State primarily to ensure that a concentration of energy-related activities unfold in our province to foster innovation and research in the sector. This will see the provincial government collaborate with other research institutions as well as private companies to enhance energy security.
This will reduce the country’s vulnerability to supply disruptions and price fluctuations, ensuring a more stable energy supply for the country.
This Energy Summit must be understood within the context of the African National Congress (ANC) which has always prioritized energy security for South Africa. This is because energy is crucial for economic growth and development, and the ruling party has always endeavoured to ensure a stable supply of energy to meet the country's energy needs.
As you would know, the ANC advocates for a diverse energy mix.
This includes a combination of coal, nuclear, natural gas, renewable energy, and hydroelectric power. This approach aims to reduce the country's dependence on a single energy source, such as coal, which has been the primary source of energy in our country for many years.
South Africa has abundant renewable energy potential, and the ANC government recognizes the importance of transitioning to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources to address environmental concerns.
This finds concrete expression in the Energy Action Plan (EAP) as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in July 2022.In terms of this plan, the National Energy Crisis Committee was established to achieve the following amongst others:
Enable and accelerate private investment in generation capacity,
Fast-track the procurement of new generation capacity from renewables, gas, and battery storage,
Unleash businesses and households, to invest in rooftop solar, and,
Fundamentally transform the electricity sector to achieve long term energy security.
Our government has been working on a restructuring plan for Eskom in order to address the financial and operational challenges faced by Eskom.
The country is also considering the possibility of introducing private sector participation in the energy sector to increase energy efficiency.
We have also been making efforts to increase the share of renewable energy sources in our energy mix. This includes the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) program, which has attracted investment in wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects.
For good reason, our government now recognizes the need to transition away from an overreliance on coal for electricity generation to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.
It is estimated that the Free State has 23-billion cubic feet of natural gas.
In 2019, Renergen found significant amount of helium in Virginia, which is said to be the site of the world’s richest helium recorded globally.
Currently, the company’s construction of Phase 2 plant on this site in Virginia with an estimated $1.16 billion investment value is underway.
Beyond gas, there also exist prospects of refurbishing our impressive mining electricity infrastructure in Matjhabeng area to generate power.
These prospects have set in motion collaborative efforts to harness energy generation and distribution in the area by establishing an energy focused Special Economic Zone in Matjhabeng Local Municipality.
Coal continues to form an important aspect of power generation in the country. And we have no shortage of coal in mainly Fezile Dabi District.
We also have uranium that can further entrench the Free State as the central energy hub. Uranium is important for nuclear power generation and it is a zero-emission clean energy with a low carbon footprint.
The Xhariep District in the southern part of the province has the second best solar-radiation index after Upington in the Northern Cape. This makes it an ideal solar power generation and distribution location.
This semi-arid district of the Free State also forms part of the main Karoo basin with enormous potential for onshore shale gas extraction. There are many other solar energy generating farms scattered throughout the Free State and feeding clean energy into the Eskom grid.
We are the location of the Gariep and Vanderkloof hydropower stations that supply power to Eskom. Alongside these, there is the Kruisvallei hydropower plant in the Ash River between Clarens and Bethlehem.
Plans by Sasol for green hydrogen for aviation fuels supply and other products for domestic and global markets in the Free State are afoot.
These are rather a fraction of the immense investment opportunities that the Free State energy landscape has to offer. Beyond all these that we know, there is a whole lot more to be discovered to power the future.
And to centre the Free State as South Africa’s central energy hub, our actions need to be decisive, deliberate, forceful and directed.
It can never be business as usual. The urgency of the moment requires
us to work together to do more as experts, investors, funders and policymakers. Alone, we will never reach our full potential as the Free State.
No challenges are too big for us to transcend if we work together.
Provinces are parts of the whole of South Africa. Our energy security endeavours are knitted together in an integrated development web. We, therefore, need to build complementarities and synergies. This is about connecting various provincial energy initiatives towards a common goal.
This is the reasons why you are all here today. The vastness of the energy sources in the Free State traverse boundaries, and so should our efforts.
It is estimated the Karoo basin that cover parts of the Free State, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape holds 209 trillion cubic feet of recoverable shale gas that could significantly turn the country’s energy tide for better.
High solar radiation is a common feature of the Northern Cape and the Free State and this should form the basis of our joint energy initiatives.
The green hydrogen investment by Sasol will economically and socially connect the Free State and Gauteng provinces in ways unimaginable.
This investment will also inspire the Vaal River City Region development that will connect the Free State, Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga.
The fact that the Gariep and Vanderkloof hydropower stations in the Free State borders the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape create strong interprovincial hydropower energy expansion linkages to be exploited.
Apart from the Eastern Cape, according to the South African Energy Wind Association, there is wind energy potential of 3 200 MW in the Free State, 6 000 MW in KwaZulu-Natal, 2100 mw in the North West, 5 500 MW in Mpumalanga and about 4 000 MW in Gauteng.
And rightly, what sits in the centre of these provinces is the Free State. The Drakensberg Pumped Storage Scheme that generates 1 000 MW of electricity is another example of energy sources linking the Free State with other provinces. This Scheme transfer water from the Tugela River into the Vaal Dam via the Sterkfontein Dam in the Free State.
For our initiatives to succeed, we need sustained political commitment, necessary investment, technical expertise and an enabling environment. Notably, we need to cut the red tape that hampers investment prospects. At the heart of the Free State Energy Security Indaba is an appreciation of the connection between various sphere of government and social partners enjoined by a shared vision of an energy secure country.
Beyond serving as a pedestal for discussions, knowledge sharing, advice, investment support, collaboration and joint actions, the Indaba should be driven by relentless desire for shared responsibilities and commitment.
The urgency of the moment requires us to act now. Time is not on our side. We owe it to our ourselves to ensure that our desires are not in vain.
It is not enough to applaud the intentions. They must be attained. And our efforts must begin here in this Free State Energy Security Indaba. We must ignite hope that in no time, inadequate energy supply, crippling
blackouts and ongoing interruptions will be the challenges of the past.
It is this sense of collective wisdom that binds us together as one. As we do so, we must have humility to acknowledge that we can learn from each other. We must also have the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstance.
I thank you