SOUTH AFRICA – Global renewable resource company Sappi is actively engaging with independent renewable-energy producers to secure renewable energy as and when it becomes available, through power purchase agreements.

The company says buying renewable energy is one of three investment categories under its South African decarbonization and/or energy plan.

The second category includes energy efficiency investments, such as investing in additional turbine generators, which reduce Sappi’s overall energy intensity.

The third category involves investment in its own renewable-energy capacity, such as biomass boilers, the replacement of fossil fuels with biomass in some existing boilers, and solar and/or wind generation capacity.

Alex Thiel Sappi Southern Africa CEO says: “We are investigating the feasibility of further investments in our own renewable- energy capacity, but these are longer-term projects.”

While these investments will improve Sappi’s energy efficiency and reduce reliance on State-owned power utility Eskom and, consequently, coal-based power, the company will never be completely independent of Eskom, since the transmission of renewable energy (whether from independent power producers or produced by Sappi) is reliant on the national grid, he highlights.

“It is, therefore, a priority for Eskom to invest in maintaining and increasing grid capacity as soon as possible so that renewable energy can be successfully deployed in South Africa,” stresses Thiel.

Overall, Sappi’s South African operations are just under 50% energy self-sufficient, with some sites still 100% reliant on Eskom.

The company can mostly manage its energy demand during load-shedding to keep critical equipment operational without impacting output; however, unplanned Eskom power outages result in “havoc”, he explains.

“The consequent power dips and surges cause major disruptions to our operations and can shut our plants down completely, even though we have our own local power supply.

“Unstable operations with multiple stops and starts impact negatively on energy efficiency and significantly increase our operation’s overall energy intensity. It’s a vicious cycle, as more energy is needed to keep an unstable operation online,” explains Thiel.

Last year, the company’s decarbonization targets were validated as being aligned with the Paris Accord and the latest climate science by the Science Based Targets Initiative, a partnership between global nonprofit CDP, the United Nations Global Compact, global research organization World Resources Institute and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“Globally, we are committed to reducing our carbon emission intensity by 41.5% by 2030 (from a 2019 baseline),” highlights Thiel.

“This means that we are actively seeking to replace fossil fuels and fossil-derived energy in our global operations with renewable energy.”

Sappi’s local operations are substantially energy intensive, but using diesel generators supports only 0.01% of its power needs. Carbon emissions intensity is key to Sappi’s environmental, social and governance metrics.

“However, we need to achieve these targets and our biggest challenge is our South African operations, which have the highest carbon intensity within our group,” concludes Thiel.

“Delivery of the Just Energy Transition Plan is critical for South Africa and for us as a company, as we still need to purchase renewable energy, and grid capacity is required to complement our own investments.”

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