South African Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said here Wednesday that although her country had a huge potential to increase solar and wind power, nuclear energy had to be part of the domestic energy mix in order to reduce carbon dioxide emission.
Speaking to Xinhua at the ongoing three-day World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi which run its 6th edition, Peters said that solar energy and wind power would not be sufficient to satisfy South Africa's growing energy needs. "Our country's important mining industry is most energy intensive."
She said South Africa would continue to produce nuclear energy at its two reactors in Koeberg at Western Cape to provide reliable and affordable energy to the country's 52 million inhabitants. Nuclear power provides 5 percent of South Africa's energy needs, while the bulk of electricity is delivered from coal and water power.
Earlier in the day, U.S. energy corporation ExxonMobil said at the summit that the use of nuclear power in the global energy mix would double by 2040 "mainly due to the rising electricity demand and the desire to reduce CO2-emissions."
Minister Peters said that her government would review every two years its national energy mix. "If wind and solar power become more efficient in the future we are open for any major changes in our energy mix," said Peters who added that the last plan was decided 5 days after the tragic meltdown in Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant following an earthquake and Tsnunami on March 11 2011.
"We have reviewed the safety of the Koeberg reactors at this time and worked closely together with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to ensure our nuclear plant is safe," said Peters.
According to the government's plan, 45 percent of the country's energy needs shall be covered by renewable energy by 2025. The country plans to build solar plants with a combined power capacity of 5,000 Megawatts.
On the advantages of nuclear power, Peters said it would help to reduce carbon emission and it was cheaper than renewable energy. "The price aspect is important, because small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of the South African economy" said Peters. SMEs would be hit the hardest if the price per kilowatt hour would increase sharply.
Earlier in the day, the 159-member states comprising International Renewable Energy Agency IRENA, based in Abu Dhabi, published at the summit a study saying that Africa had the potential and the ability to fuel the majority of its future growth with renewable energy. With world-class solar and hydropower resources, complemented by bioenergy, wind, geothermal and marine resources in some regions, the report showed that Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog to modern renewable energy, said IRENA.
Asked if she regarded the German government's decision in the wake of Fukushima to switch off all 15 nuclear power plants in Germany by 2020 a mistake, Peters replied that her country cannot be compared to Germany. "We are interconnected with our African neighbor countries, but Germany is interconnected to almost every neighbor's electricity grid."
However, South Africa and Congo were currently studying plans to connect their grids. Once these plans were realized, South Africa could benefit from Congo's hydro-energy plants, said the minister. Similar agreements had sealed with Lesotho.