South Africa has some of the world's most abundant renewable energy potential. / Photo: Getty Images

South Africa's new energy minister vowed on Monday to accelerate the shift to renewable energy from coal, breaking with a predecessor who opposed swift decarbonision and pledged to keeping burning coal for a long time.

Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, who now runs the newly-created Energy and Electricity Ministry, was addressing journalists as Africa's most industrialised nation celebrated more than 100 days with no power cuts – a record over years of crippling blackouts.

"I am going to be ultra-aggressive on the ... renewable energy. You are going to see an exponential share," he told a news conference in the capital Pretoria, adding that he wanted to signal to investors "our intention to go that route."

Owing to its reliance on coal-fired power stations run by state provider Eskom , South Africa is among the world's top 15 greenhouse gas emitters – pushing out more than Britain or France – and has the highest carbon intensity among the Group of 20 largest economies, according to watchdog Climate Transparency.


"We are going to be the leaders on this continent in relation to renewables," Ramakgopa said.

It cut a very different tone from predecessor Gwede Mantashe, who had repeatedly urged resisting international pressure to rush into green energy, questioning its viability.

President Cyril Ramaphosa chose his new cabinet at the end of last month, after weeks of horse-trading with other parties following the ruling African National Congress's unprecedented majority loss in a May election.

Previously, energy had been tied to mines, under Mantashe, but Ramaphosa hived it off and merged it with Ramokgopa's electricity ministry, in what analysts saw as a move to decouple energy from coal.

Renewable energy potential

With 400,000 square kilometres (about 150,000 square miles) of semi-desert and a vast coastline battered by strong winds, South Africa also has some of the world's most abundant renewable energy potential.

Yet policy uncertainty has discouraged investment, and activists bemoaned a government decision last year to delay decommissioning several coal-fired power stations well into 2030, citing energy security.

Ramokgopa admitted South Africa's switch to green energy had "taken a bit longer than what is necessary," and said his priority would be meeting business people to discuss "the hurdles that undermined ... their appetite to participate."

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