Sustainable Enviroment

Need for renewable energy ever important

Need for renewable energy ever important

Radical new proposals show how South Africa’s power needs could be met by renewable energy and energy efficiency measures – and not by coal and nuclear.

The authors of the Smart Energy Plan have urged government to reconsider its plans to build new coal and nuclear plants. Its preliminary findings were released at a media event at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on November 29, 2012 by a network of civil-society organisations called the Electricity Governance Initiative of South Africa (EGI-SA). A peer-reviewed study will be released next year.

“The primary aim,” said Samantha Bailey, of 350.Org who presented the study, “is to build a positive road map for electricity usage in the future. Currently South Africa is making very big decisions about electricity which could lock us into 40-60 years of contracts and patterns which may be impossible to undo.

“Alternatives are more affordable, intelligent and modern than sources like coal or nuclear and have more benefit to the environment and to people.”

She pointed out that electricity is a key economic enabler, especially for the poor, and vital for better health services and improved education. But rises in joblessness and inequality were not going to be solved by expanding traditional sources of power. The study had found that many more jobs had been created by alternative energy methods than traditional ones and the trend would increase in the future.

“Do we continue polluting and destroying our life support systems, in the name of economic growth, or are we going to take the path of a sustainable, life-giving future?” asked Bishop Geoff Davies, executive director of Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute. “The EGI findings show that we can meet all our energy needs without resorting to further coal or nuclear power stations.”

“We are here,” said Imam Dr A Rashied Omar, chair of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, “to express our deep concern that our public policies are not in sync with the best options for preserving our natural environment, saving energy and alleviating poverty.”

The research finds that our current electricity infrastructure is economically uncompetitive, inefficient, unhealthy and based on demand on outdated projections of demand – it has decreased over the past two years as prices soared, the authors of the report say. 

“The total coal reserve in the country is equal to only 15% of the solar reserve that is available annually,” said Bailey. Also, the cost of solar had in fact declined in the past few years, she said.

“This report shows us that renewable energy, some of it generated locally, can provide us with all the electricity we need and is far more efficient and cost-effective, than either coal or nuclear energy,” said Bishop Davies.

The  report highlights that South Africans are paying for Eskom to recover the costs of its infrastructure, which hikes up prices to unaffordable levels. Poor households are increasingly turning to alternative fuel sources such as paraffin when cash is short, and this trend is likely to continue as electricity prices continue rising.

The concrete recommendations include:

Boosting the energy access of two million of the poorest households by giving them the chance to install ceilings, solar powered lights and cell phone chargers. This could be funded through existing national electricity related programmes such as the current renewable energy procurement programme.

Allowing and helping homeowners to supply energy to the grid introducing changes to how mining and other industries use power, which could slash their energy use by about 25%.

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