Zero Carbon Compendium

South Africa

'Rapid industrialisation and mass electrification programs in South Africa have meant demand has regularly outstripped supply'

Key Facts

Country Population:49 m
Capital Population:1.4 m
Area:1.2 km²
Density:41 people/km²

National Carbon Overview

As of 2006, coal accounted for 67% of South Africa's primary energy supply, the majority of which is converted for electricity. The cost of electricity in South Africa is one of the lowest in the world. Rapid industrialisation and mass electrification programs in South Africa have meant demand has regularly outstripped supply. As such, there are plans to double generating capacity in the next two decades, of which nuclear power is expected to contribute to half of the total supply. The government aims to achieve universal access to electricity in the country by 2012.[1] By 2009, the country achieved 75% electrification, with 88% in urban and 55% in rural areas. Renewables could help in extending electrification across the country.[2]

The country is currently the 14th highest emitter of greenhouse gases. This is the result of the high carbon intensity of coal and other liquid fuels, as well as the considerable amount of energy required for the country's large-scale intensive mining and primary mineral extraction industries. However, large scale solar and wind farms are currently under construction.

As a result of the shortage of affordable housing for millions of residents, efforts have centred on creating sustainable developments through home ownership and providing technical and financial support. Despite these efforts and the building of 1.83 million subsidised houses, the backlog in housing has continued to grow between 1996
and 2005.[3]


Exemplar Project

Witsand Community Energy Project
Witsand, Capetown

Witsand Project. City of Cape Town

The Witsand Project was initiated by the City of Cape Town, and by the end of 2003, the project had already built 400 new homes. The second phase aims to construct an additional 1,600 homes by 2013 on the site of a former informal settlement on the outskirts of Cape Town.

The project includes a range of housing models, ranging from singles to multi-family duplexes and will ultimately house 2,400 families. On average, each home will save 0.24 tonnes of CO2 per year when compared to standard low-income homes. The initiative also earns carbon off-set credits, with the carbon income earmarked for the additional costs for the installation of ceiling insulation in the homes.

The site layout is designed to maximise passive measures, including passive solar and wind benefits. The houses are designed with careful placement of shadow lines and windows to avoid overheating, while roof overhangs and site plan maximise solar benefits.

The development also includes two prototype double storey units that are fitted with solar geysers, PV modules for lighting and cell phone charging, and a roofwater/storm water recovery system.[5]

Policy and Targets

Under the UNFCCC and the subsequent Kyoto Protocol, South Africa is classified as a developing country and is not required to commit to quantifiable targets in the first phase of the program between 2008 and 2012. However, the government released the Vision, Strategic Direction and Framework for Climate Policy in 2008, which aims to stop GHG emissions from growing by 2020-2025, stabilise for up to 10 years, and then finally decline in absolute terms.

The Department of Energy is the primary government actor involved in encouraging household efficiency. One initiative to assist households in becoming more energy efficient is the Appliance Labelling campaign which was launched in 2003 to inform consumers about the energy efficiency of appliances.

Existing Frameworks

South Africa's Green Building Council was launched in 2007 and has subsequently adopted Australia's Green Star rating program. The rating system currently applies to offices and retail developments, while a multi-unit residential rating scheme is being tested in a number of pilot projects.

Much of the building in both urban and rural settings remains informal and unregulated. Programs such as Breaking New Ground, initiated by the Department of Human Settlement in 2004, will address these problems as it aims to supply urgently-needed housing, which is high quality and sensitive to the surrounding environment.[4]

The updated National Housing Code was released in 2009, and sets formal requirements for energy efficient materials and technology. The updated version also outlines passive thermal design recommendations and minimum standards for housing products that aim to improve sustainability.

Support, Incentives and Grants

With guidance from Eskom, South Africa's state-owned energy utility, the government launched the Solar Water Heating Programme in 2008. The scheme is driven by the government's target for renewable energy to contribute 10,000 GWh of final energy consumption by 2013. The programme provides direct rebates to purchasers, the amount of which depends on the type of system installed.

South Africa's first Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff (REFIT) was introduced in 2009, which requires Eskom to purchase output from qualifying generators. A number of types of energy are covered under the scheme and the cost of the tariff is passed through to Eskom electricity customers.

In March 2011, the '49M' energy efficiency campaign was launched by Eskom. The campaign encourages small steps such as the use of compact fluorescent lamps instead of incandescent globes, keeping unused appliances switched off and reducing overall electricity wastage.



  1. Infrastructure: South Africa's Energy Supply.
  2. International Energy Agency. (2010). Comparative Study on Rural Electrification Policies in Emerging Economies.
  3. Department of Human Settlements. Strategic Statement of the Department.
  4. South African Government Information. (1994). A New Housing Policy and Strategy for South Africa.
  5. City of Cape Town. (2010). SA's 'greenest' RDP houses are being built in Atlantis.
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