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Renewable Energy To The Rescue!

Article © CA(SA)DotNews by DotNews

Renewable EnegerySouth Africa has been absorbing bad news recently. So it is good to discover that we are a world leader in renewable energy development and that this is making considerable strides towards resolving our energy problem.

Energy shortages – how they hurt us 

Load shedding has reduced our economic growth and energy shortages are a chronic problem not just for us but for the whole African continent. The World Bank estimates that lack of energy drops Africa’s economic growth rate by 4% annually.

In South Africa, Eskom has commissioned massive coal fired projects like Medupi which will add 4,764 megawatts to our capacity and increase it by more than 10%. The problems with Medupi are that it is way overdue (it was supposed to be finished in 2013 but has yet to start producing significant power) and it will contribute negatively to global warming.

At the moment the country has capacity to generate 44,000 megawatts but can only reliably produce 29,000 megawatts. Currently demand is for about 32,000 megawatts. This 3,000 megawatt shortfall explains load shedding.

What’s happening with wind and solar

Since 2011 IPPs (Independent Power Producers, both multi-nationals and local South African companies) have produced energy capacity of more than 4,000 megawatts which has been added to the Eskom grid. These projects generate electricity by using wind power and solar power. So impressed is the Department of Energy that it has commissioned a further 6,000 megawatts from IPPs. This will bring investment in renewable energy programs to R192 billion. An additional bonus is that these projects are in remote areas (Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape) which house many of the country’s poorer communities. This brings jobs and in turn this will stimulate infrastructural development including improved health care and educational facilities.

This is an excellent example of government/private sector partnerships and will considerably enhance electricity capacity in the medium term.

But is renewable energy economically viable?  

Traditional sources of energy like the Medupi project are cheaper than renewable energy but this is changing fast. The price of solar power has dropped 76% since 2011 whilst wind power cost has fallen by more than half in the same period. Renewable energy is now cheaper to operate than a generator.

As progress is made in this sector including cost-effective storage, expect the price to drop even further.

One advantage of renewable energy is that it can be connected up without using power lines. As electricity power lines cost several thousand US dollars per kilometre, this offers the prospect that South Africa and the continent can leapfrog the energy crisis.

South Africa is at the cutting-edge of renewable energy development and has the capacity to bring the country out of its energy crisis much faster than we expect.  It is also encouraging to see how effectively government and the private sector can work together.

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