EVEN if there was no war in Ukraine and no embargo against Russian oil and gas, South Africa would find itself in a pretty pickle, forced to import fuel directly. It is not just our strategic fuel reserves which have been plundered, but our capacity to refine crude in the face of a global transition away from the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) which stands at the heart of massive increases at the pump.
Attempts by government to restructure and partially deregulate the fuel price by lowering or dropping levies are merely band-aids on a serious problem, whose root cause is the pivot away from fossil fuels towards Electric Vehicles (EVs).
The blame needs to be placed squarely on both the Minister of Energy and Resources, Gwede Mantashe and Minister of Transport Fikile Mbalula whose porfolio’s intersect.
It seems strange that a former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation, Yonela Diko should be generating after the fact opinion pieces pointing out that ‘depending solely on fuel imports threatens energy security”, as if this strategic reality were not already at the heart of our energy policies, and especially given our countries past experience with sanctions?
Diko’s demonstration of the lack of refining capacity caused by the unwillingness of energy companies to invest in upgrades is only part of the problem in dealing with the harsh reality that the entire world is transitioning away from fossil fuels, towards electric vehicles:
He writes: “The latest closure of Shell and BP-owned Refinery Sapref in Durban which had a peak capacity of 180 000 bbl/d, a whooping 35% crude refining capacity of the entire country, becomes the latest blow in the countries refining capacity leaving the country with only one option, to import.”
“We are now left with the only worlds coal-based synthetic fuels refinery, Sasol’s Natref, which has a peak day production of a 150 000 bbl/d, which is not enough to carry the entire country and replace the lost refinery capacity. We also have the ever so incapacitated PetroSA which is supposed to be a gas-to-liquid refinery in Mossel Bay which never seems to find any gas.”
Instead of defending the capacity already in place and coming up with a mitigation plan, we have seen a veritable, wild goose chase. Readers may remember the debacle involving Shell and Mantashe’s search for oil and gas off our coast? The entire energy strategy, which found its origin in Jacob Zuma’s Operation Phakisa, has been to pivot towards ‘prospecting’ (read: Adventurism) and the parceling out of future ocean rights to oil companies, none of which have panned out. It is only Namibia which has benefited.
As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is always better than two in the bush.
In some respects the environmental justice movement is also caught offside with its mantra of “Just Transition Away from Coal”, instead of a ‘Just Transition Towards Renewables in Transportation’.
Although there are tentative plans involving so-called “Green Hydrogen” impacting upon heavy industry and mining vehicles, the government has failed to deliver any tangible incentives to transition towards Electric Vehicles. No rebates, no tax incentives, no assistance to an industry which desperately needs to be retooled.
Petrol attendants and ‘pump jockeys’ may just go the way of the lift attendant, elevator operator and ice-hauler, who no longer haul ice to the proverbial icebox. All categories of work long considered redundant. Unless SADC is able to co-operate in finding a solution, the transition will come-about via accident if not force majeur, and not according to any particular plan.
Unlike the USA and Europe, South Africa faces a hybrid future, where bio-diesel, methane, hydrogen fuel cells and electric all play a role. One would expect the Minister of Transport to have announced plans for moving South Africa’s massive fleet of Quantum minibuses towards sustainable bio-diesel or methane. Ditto the trucking industry.
To date there are no plans to my knowledge to assist in the retrofit of private and public transport.Talk about the introduction of Chinese-produced, electric-powered ‘Bullet Trains’ seems to be just empty talk, as consumers are forced to pore fuel at the pump.