CAPE TOWN, May 15 (Xinhua) -- South African Energy Minister Jeff Radebe refrained from discussing the government's controversial nuclear plan on Tuesday as he kicked off the African Utility Week in Cape Town.
The three-day conference hosts more than 7,000 international energy and water professionals around the theme of building a skilled workforce to drive power and water projects on the continent, with a focus on nuclear energy.
In his key-note address, Radebe re-affirmed the South African government's commitment to renewable energy as part of the country's energy mix whilst dodging any mention of its plans for nuclear energy.
He highlighted the successes of renewable energy in South Africa, saying the country has concluded 91 projects with a capacity of 63,000 megawatts (MW) to date.
Of these projects, 62 have the combined capacity of 3,800 MW which already is connected to the grid, according to Radebe.
South Africa, he said, has seen a "significant decline in tariffs of about 55 percent for wind and 76 percent for solar."
Radebe said about 136 billion rand (about 10.9 billion U.S. dollars) has been invested in the South African economy with another 56 billion rand (about 4.5 billion dollars) to be invested over the next three to five years when construction of 27 renewable power projects, signed in April, commence.
Radebe told delegates that these projects will create 39,000 jobs for South Africans and reduce an estimated 23 million tons of carbon dioxide, in addition to the substantial savings of water.
However, many delegates were keen to notice the absence of South Africa's nuclear energy plan in Radebe's speech.
The South African government has approved its Integrated Resource Plan of 2010-30, which provides for coal, gas, renewables and 9,600 megawatt nuclear power as part of the energy landscape by 2030. But environmental groups, which question the safety of nuclear plants, have launched a series of campaigns against the plan.
Radebe's predecessor David Mahlobo reportedly had been pushing the government's controversial nuclear deal with Russia, which is expected to cost one trillion rand (about 800 billion dollars).
But since Radebe became energy minister in February, he has made no outright mention of South Africa's nuclear energy plans.
Speaking at the conference, European Union Ambassador to South Africa, Marcus Cornaro, welcomed South Africa's re-commitment to the renewable energy sector specifically the 27 renewable energy projects.
This will help "reinforce investor confidence in the sector," Cornaro said.
The EU, which remains a prominent investor in the energy sector, "sees itself in a threefold role as a development partner, as a foreign direct investor and partner in research and innovation in Africa and specifically South Africa," he said.
A total of 14 EU-based companies are exhibiting their latest innovations at the conference and are looking for partners in Africa.
Cornaro called for strong leadership and citizen participation on national regional, multinational and global level.
"This will determine our ability to leapfrog in the development of sustainable energy and water sectors,"he said.
Phakamani Hadebe, interim CEO of South Africa's electricity utility Eskom, called on Africa to unite on energy issues.
He said access to electricity is a human right.
"The question then is how to create the infrastructure needed for growth and create opportunities. It's a huge challenge," Hadebe said.
It is only through creating the environment conducive for growth and opportunities that "Africans will not risk their lives to cross the ocean in search for opportunities," he said.