Let us imagine that we find ourselves in 2050, in a world where the era of cheap oil and coal is gone. Global governments have taken tough and unpopular decisions decades ago. These brave leaders understood that that the risk of doing nothing against the expected effects of climate change and the depletion of fossil fuel resources was just too high. Greenhouse gas concentrations are declining and global temperatures are decreasing. All over the world transport, industry and power sectors have been made more sustainable through Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.
2010, the world we live in now: We live in challenging times. We have the global financial crisis, increasing energy crisis, over-exploitation and depletion of essential mineral and fossil fuel resources, terrorist and pirate attacks, climate change and other environmental and health threats, plus ongoing and increasing social imbalances.
South Africa has to target a sustainable economic growth path whilst lifting the majority of South Africans out of economic apartheid. Renewable energy technology of all kinds, large and small scale has been developed globally to a level where most of the technologies are available off the shelf. Locally South African universities demonstrate that there is neither lack of interest nor capacity of local scientific knowledge on renewable energy technologies The Government has shown some ambition and political will with setting targets on RE (10,000 GWh from RE by 2014), introducing the 1-Million Solar Water Heating programme and other demand side management and energy efficiency measures. But the implementation is far behind schedule and it is debatable whether set targets are really as ambitious as they should be.
The level of contribution of renewable energy in South Africa depends on political will and a commitment to set bold targets. An ambitious renewable energy roadmap in conjunction with appropriate investments on the demand side will create more than twice as much decent work as conventional energy scenarios. South Africa needs a mixture of large and small scale renewable energy solutions.
What can be done while we are waiting for national policies to be developed in order to guarantee a safe, reliable and affordable power supply for South Africans? All of us can contribute: A middle or upper income household can reduce its electricity consumption by up to 50% simply by installing a SWH-system, ceiling insulation and reducing electric heating, minimizing pool pump activation and investing in energy saving lighting and efficient household appliances. The same applies to commercial buildings, institutions and industries in all sectors. Until then it is possible to access renewable energy through Tradable Renewable Energy Certificates. (see our previous blog post for more information)
The likely risks associated with climate change, peak cheap oil, declining coal reserves, high costs and highly contentious issues associated with nuclear power and the probability of a carbon taxation regime require that Government and Business leaders change tack.
Abundant business opportunities and potential for decent work provided by renewable energy technologies, the potential for development of related manufacturing and service industries and energy efficiency projects should be convincing arguments for Government and Business decision makers to invest in a secure and low-carbon energy future for South Africa.
Article by Robert Fischer, published in Business Day Earth. For the full article visit our website.