Estimating greenhouse gas emissions associated with achieving universal access to electricity in South Africa

Climate change, energy security and achieving universal electricity access for all households are all pressing issues that South Africa must address. These objectives need not be trade-offs, however, and achieving electricity access for the poor does not justify the building of large coal-fired power stations or threaten South Africa’s climate change objectives. This paper estimates the electricity demand from the residential sector to 2020 resulting from universal access, and finds that electricity for low-income households would constitute only a small addition to total electricity demand and would represent only a minor portion of output from the coal-fired power station, Medupi. Furthermore, emissions from the additional electricity consumed by newly connected households would have a negligible impact on South Africa’s emissions profile. 

This study, by Louise Tait and Harald Winkler, demonstrated that providing 3.4 million households with access to a basic need would represent only a minor addition to South Africa’s electricity demand and emissions profile. Residential electricity consumption is a relatively small share of total demand for electricity, accounting for approximately 15% of forecast demand in 2020. The share of poor households in this total is minor, accounting for only 0.4% of total electricity demand. Electrification of low-income households will only increase electricity consumption by 0.11% in 2020, which indicates that this is not a credible basis to motivate building new coal-fired power stations. The projected demand from all poor households in 2020 is expected to account for just 4% of the total electricity from the Medupi power station. The emissions associated with increasing access to electricity for poor households would contribute only 0.09% to total emissions in 2020. Whether emissions should be attributed to end-users or to producers of electricity is a normative question. However, it appears that the goal of achieving universal access for the poor is not a compelling reason to build another coal-fired power station nor would it significantly jeopardise South Africa’s climate change commitments.

Download the full report here: Tait & Winkler, 2012, Elec Emissions from HHs in SA

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