Renewable energy win-win for all

THE environmental benefits of renewable-energy technology are obvious, but people can overlook the boost renewable energy provides for an economy.

The renewable sources of energy (wind, solar, hydropower energy, hydroelectric energy, geothermal energy, biomass and biofuels) are alternatives for fossil fuels and contribute not only to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but to the diversification of energy supplies and the reduction of dependence on the volatile and unreliable markets of fossil fuels, especially oil and gas.

Improving energy efficiency offers benefits few can afford to ignore – job growth, reduced consumption and carbon emissions, lower operating costs, reduced dependence on foreign energy supplies, improved balance of trade and economic growth.

Our country generates 93% of its electricity from its own coal, making it one of the 15 largest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2) worldwide.

At the same time, increasing economic growth and a lack of investment in power plants is causing shortages in electricity supplies. To meet the energy demand, reduce CO2 emissions and create jobs, the South African government intends introducing renewable energy at a large scale and increasing energy efficiency in all sectors.

This means that rather than increasing our reliance on coal as an electricity generating fuel, a more sensible policy is to integrate cleaner technologies into our electricity supply mix.

Energy efficiency for example, can meet a substantial portion of our power needs at roughly one-fifth the cost of new coal-fired power plants, and with virtually no environmental impact.

Given these economic and environmental benefits, energy efficiency should be the foundation of the Eastern Cape’s energy policy. That is why the provincial government has developed a renewable energy strategy, put in place the appropriate institutional setting for renewable energy, developed a favourable policy and regulatory framework to promote its development and use, enabled technical grid integration and is developing research and development capabilities and a deep talent pool.

There are two approaches to the necessary evolution of a renewable energy model. One, the most prevalent in our history, is to wait for others to develop the technology and then acquire it from them.

The other possibility, which has turned the most developed countries into leaders, is to capitalise on the tremendous opportunity of boosting the economy and generating employment by participating at the frontline of development and becoming exporters of technology, equipment and installations.

The conditions are right for taking the latter tack. We are proving that home-grown, low-carbon energy sources and energy conservation strategies are crucial for steering our province towards safer climate conditions and the nation towards greater energy security.

In addition, policy based on renewable energy and conservation creates jobs.

Access to affordable energy is one of the pillars of our economy and major investments in energy efficiency and clean, renewable electricity will stimulate economic growth and create work.

We’ve been awarded 16 wind farms and one solar energy farm – a total investment value of R33,7-billion and 18132 job years over the life of the projects.

Our involvement in renewable energy projects, especially wind farms, has generated 18132 full time equivalent jobs.

We received an additional boost to our energy security when the R3,5-billion, 342 Megawatt peaking power station achieved commercial operation in October 2015, immediately helping to reduce the chances of load-shedding.

As part of our international relations work, the province is collaborating with Lower Saxony in Germany to build the Eastern Cape-Lower Saxony mini-grid project. It will be piloted in a village at Raymond Mhlaba municipality and entails electrification using a renewable energy mini-grid.

The Department of Energy has also identified the Coega Industrial Development Zone for the construction of 1000 Megawatt liquid natural gas fired power station. The project will unleash a host of opportunities for developing the gas industry in the province.

Despite these advances, further improvements are needed in the overall conditions and implementation processes for public and private investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Renewable energy presents a major opportunity for our province. High and volatile prices of oil and its derivatives have put energy security at the top of the political agenda. An increased contribution by renewable energy to the primary energy mix would help reduce dependency on imported oil and contribute to reducing environmental degradation, greenhouse gas emissions and social inequalities.

Phumulo Masualle is Premier of the Eastern Cape. Follow him on EC_Premier