Is Renewable Energy the Answer for South Africa?

Greenpeace and Tcktcktck volunteers raise a wind turbine on the beach at dawn in Durban, South Africa. To send a message of hope for the latest round of UN climate change talks opening here on Monday. Campaigners say Durban must be a new dawn for the international negotiations to agree a fair, ambitious and legally binding treaty to avert climate chaos. They are demanding that politicians stop listening to the polluting corporations and listen to the people who want an end to our dependence on fossil fuels. Africa is on the front line of dangerous climate change, with millions already suffering the impacts through increased drought and extreme weather events, threatening lives and food security.

Electricity is an enabler; it is part of a suite of energy products which people need to satisfy basic living requirements such as the ability to cook, to study at night, to keep your community safe, to better your circumstances. We cannot limit our conversation on renewable energy to one or two technologies when there is an entire suite of options available to fulfil our needs.

A good starting point is the question of what does electricity actually mean for South Africans, more specifically what does it mean for South African’s who currently do not have access to electricity or those who have access but cannot afford to pay for the electricity supplied through the grid?

According to Eskom financial reports baseload coal is at 1.05-1.16 R/kWh. Based on work undertaken by EE Publishers on the Levelised Cost of Electricity for nuclear, the new build tariff weighs in at 1.17-1.30 R/kWh. The pro-nuclear and pro-fossil fuels lobby premise is a reliable and flexible electricity system on the back of an inflexible archaic model of electricity provision. South Africa is facing not just poverty but it is also facing inequality and unemployment. It is clear from global trends that the world is shifting from fossil fuels and embracing renewable energy.

New occupations and increasing levels of job opportunities are contained in the renewable energy sector. More people are being absorbed by the sector than by other sources and if you disaggregate the numbers by renewable sources, then you get to see that jobs are predominately in solar and wind. The current electricity sector based on the inflexible, archaic model is riddled by perverse fuel subsidies, rent seeking and negative cross-subsidisation. Basically, in this context, the ordinary South African citizen is paying for corporate public-private inefficiencies.

Whilst large-scale wind and concentrated solar power are technologically mature and already working to add renewable energy into South Africa’s grid. In fact at a time when we were experiencing our worst load shedding, renewable energy was the only technology adding power into the grid, and doing it on time and in budget.

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Is Renewable Energy the Answer for South Africa?

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