University of South Africa: Discussing strategies and policies for sustaining energy


The webinar was facilitated by Rendani Nematandani, the university’s sustainability officer. “We are gathered here today to promote sustainable energy at Unisa. The discussions around issues of energy are pivotal nowadays as South Africa is going through a series of blackouts and loadshedding,” said Nematandani.

He said that the webinar was crucial as it speaks to sustainable developmental goals (SDGs) which were created by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. “Especially,” Nematandani said, “SDG seven and thirteen.” He strongly believes that the university has a big role to play in these goals through research, engaged scholarship and teaching.

Mamahloko Senatla-Jaane (Energy & carbon footprint specialist: Kumba Iron Ore), Prof Mkhulu Mathe (Chair: UJ PEETS) and Dr Thelma Louw (Director: Sustainability, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate)

Delivering the welcome and introductory remarks, Unisa’s head of Sustainability, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate, Dr Thelma Louw, emphasised that this webinar came at an opportune time given the recent waves of loadshedding in South Africa. “We are now moving to stage four loadshedding,” noted Louw. Additionally, she said that the crisis is not only national, but also global. “Internationally we are faced with an energy crisis, Europe is challenged as well.” She further said that the webinar is supported by the university’s framework and policy on sustainable energy.

Biogas: waste to energy
Presenting on renewable energy, Prof Tonderayi Matambo from Unisa’s Institute for the Development of Energy for African Sustainability (IDEAS) discussed biogas matters comprehensively. He explained biogas production and its process during production time. Matambo gave a full view of the kind of research he conducted and the energy solutions that can last longer.

Prof Tonderayi Matambo (Head: IDEAS)

Much as Matambo recommended that biomethane can be used for cooking, he also cautioned the audience about the safety measures. He said biogas can be used for transportation and gave an example of biogas to electricity supplied to BMW for commercial and partnering purposes.

Though Matambo highlighted health concerns in connection with biogas, he believes biogas is much cleaner and that it can be purified. Matambo, who was also a member of the Unisa team receiving the 2022 “NRF Science Team” on biogas provided insights on strategies that can help the country in energy.

Commercial building rooftops
An energy specialist, Mamahloko Senatla-Jaane, was the second speaker and her focus was on commercial building rooftops as assets in the decarbonisation pathway for South Africa. Senatla-Jaane has over ten years of experience in energy planning, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions reporting, sustainability and environmental management. She said South Africa’s energy is dominated by coal and that it is used mainly to produce electricity.

“Given the urgent need to decarbonise,” she added, “all sectors will need to contribute to the decarbonisation pathways.”

Senatla-Jaane pointed out the commercial sector advantages in decarbonisation. She stated that robust policies can be used to reduce energy use in buildings. She explained, “this can assist South Africa to meet its low emissions development strategy (LEDS) and to support South Africa with National Energy Efficiency Strategy (NEES).”

Senatla-Jaane said businesses can decarbonise in the current electricity market while it might be hard to decarbonise for residential and industry given the low tariff.

Leading energy expert, Prof Mkhulu Mathe, was the third speaker who focused mainly on the transition to affordable and sustainable energy. He is the current chair of the University of Johannesburg’s Process, Energy and Environmental Technology Station (PEETS), and has led multidisciplinary research teams and has delivered several energy initiatives in his career.

In his discussions Mathe said that countries and different sectors should invest in renewable energy resources. Moreover, Mathe stated that all institutions should prioritise energy efficient practises by adopting clean energy technologies and resources. “We need to encourage citizens to cook and heat with electricity from clean renewable sources instead of traditional biomass,” he stated.

“Employers can reduce internal demand for transport by prioritising telecommunications and other digital sources,” Mathe advised. He concluded, “incentivise using less energy-intensive modes such as trains over auto and air for travelling.”

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