Citing President Jacob Zuma’s pledge at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, South Africa promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34 % in the next decade and 42 % by 2025 (with support from developed countries with regards to finance, technology and capacity-building). However, due to the large uncertainty surrounding the scale and output capacity of various renewable technologies that might rollout in South Africa in the near future, at this stage, it is probably only possible to speculate if these commitments will be met. For the time being, we could perhaps begin to assess our progress towards this ‘greener economy’ by reflecting on the relative performance of some of the renewable energy sectors.
Personally, I do not think that the transition towards clean energy could have occurred without some set-backs and disappointments. This “trial-and-error” phase is perhaps illustrated with reference to February 2010, when plans for Koebergs’ Pebble Bed Modular Reactor were temporarily shelved. This was at the expense of (at least) R8 billion of mostly taxpayers’ money. Some estimates suggest that the plant would have had an output potential of 80 MW of electricity (and 200MW of heat) which is only a fraction (< 1 % – see calculation 1 below) of our present energy needs. In retrospect, critics would not be wrong to argue that perhaps this money would have been better spent on energy provision for South Africa’s poorest. For example, this money could have easily covered the expense of solar water geysers for thousands of households (and possibly even every household in South Africa’s informal settlements – see calculation 2 below). In light of this, one might wonder if perhaps more judicious scoping or decisive allocation of finances that are going towards nuclear renewable options in South Africa is required.
I think that this void left by the inadequacies of the nuclear sector has, for the large part, been filled. It would seem as if the Western Cape began to concentrate on the growth of its’ wind energy sectors; in addition to the current wind farms (Darling and Klipheuwel which are already linked to the national electricity grid) in the near future, the Sere wind farm could provide an additional 100MW of clean energy. Similarly, The Eastern Cape has also shown promising potential to generate significant amounts of wind energy. For example, the construction of the Coega Wind Farm in Port Elizabeth (projected to have a total power capacity of 57.5 MW) began in May 2010 and the province has also been earmarked for the construction of at least four new wind energy projects. In December 2011, bidders for renewable wind projects included; The MetroWind Van Stadens Wind Farm (potentially, 26.19MW), Red Cap Kouga Wind Farm near Oyster Bay (77.60MW), Jeffreys Bay Wind Farm (133.86MW) and Cookhouse Wind Farm (135MW). If these projects are in fact implemented, this would be an additional source of clean energy (370MW which is >1% our current energy consumption).
South Africa has also made plans to make use good use of the large number of sunny days that the country receives per year. Based on the amount of annual solar irradiation -the Northern Cape in particular appears to be an ideal location for the construction of solar farms. Eskom has been assessing a large number of applications for its Upington pilot plant (these have a potential capacity of at least 600MW made up of the 100MW from the Concentrated Solar Power demonstration plant and the 500MW from a commercial plant). This will be in convenient proximity to both national and main roads and existing transmission which means there will be minimal line loss. There is even potential for a (100MW) solar plant in Pofadder (Northern Cape) and a (28MW) Soutpan Solar Park in Limpopo. This rapid “rush for renewables” in recent years has in fact left me wondering which renewable energy– wind or solar – will dominate in South Africa?
Overall, I think that South Africa’s strong commitment to developing infrastructure in the solar and wind energy sectors outweigh the “teething problems” experienced in implementing nuclear energy. Although not currently attracting much of the lime light, one should not forget that there is also potential for biogas technology and our hydroelectric sectors to develop in coming years. Reflecting on our road from Copenhagen, if one had to weigh things out, I think South Africa has shown a promising start. Over the next few years – if the road ahead becomes even ‘greener’ – renewable energy could provide a large proportion of our energy needs. In such a case South Africa would be able to considerably reduce emissions by 2025 and could very easily fulfil the commitments made at Copenhagen.
Calculation 1: In Jan -2012, consumption reported to be 19 676 GWh So 19 676 GWh*12 months =236 112 in a year hence, 19 676 GWh/ (365days*24hrs) = 26.95 GW. Thus (0.08 GW/26.95 GW) * 100 = 0.29 <<<1%
Calculation 2: Over 2,300 houses will be equipped with solar water heaters in Kuyasa, which will cost about 12 million South African Rand (ZAR) = ZAR 5217 / household fitted with SW geyser And According to Statistics SA, as of mid-2009, there are more than 2,700 informal settlements consisting of about 1.2 million households. Hence, 1.2 million Households* ZAR 5217 = 5.217 billion i.e. <<< R8, 67 billion
Hi Rryan, I am certainly not an expert in renewable energy, but thanks very much for your comment and your confidence in me.
In terms of the section stating that the Koebergs’ Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project costing “R8 billion of mostly taxpayers’ money … critics would not be wrong to argue that perhaps this money would have been better spent on energy provision for South Africa’s poorest …cover[ing] the expense of solar water geysers for thousands of households … perhaps more judicious scoping or decisive allocation of finances that are going towards nuclear renewable options in South Africa is required.”
I tend to agree with Chris on this in that I do not think it is black and white, project vs water geysers, in a situation where the worlds fossil fuels resources are currently being depleted at an astonishing rate, can we really quantify the cost of finding and financing an alternative, successful or not. As stated in the beginning of the article there is room for hit and miss, i wholeheartedly believe in this statement, given the relatively new nature of alternative energy research, one cannot assume to ‘hit’ every time. While R8 billion put towards water geysers in impoverished areas would undoubtedly be an enormous advantage how accurately can this be compared to an opportunity for nuclear energy provision. even if seemingly representing a tear in the ocean it is a step in the right direction and on some level must be commended.
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“… when plans for Koebergs’ Pebble Bed Modular Reactor were temporarily shelved. This was at the expense of … R8 billion of mostly taxpayers’ money … critics would not be wrong to argue that perhaps this money would have been better spent on energy provision for South Africa’s poorest …cover[ing] the expense of solar water geysers for thousands of households … perhaps more judicious scoping or decisive allocation of finances that are going towards nuclear renewable options in South Africa is required.”
I disagree with this to some extent: although R8 billion is a lot of money to spend on a project that was to be ultimately shelved, there must have been a reasonable chance of success of this project in order for it to have been considered in the first place. If it were successful, the scale of clean energy production from the Pebble Bed Reactor would have been far greater than the energy provided to thousands of households from solar water geysers. Unfortunately not all projects are successful, but (most of the time) money is seldom wasted in advancing knowledge on clean energy technologies. Therefore, although the provision of solar water geysers would have brought about a more imminent result, we need to look towards projects that will have a greater and lasting affect in the longer term.
“South Africa promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 34 % in the next decade and 42 % by 2025 (with support from developed countries with regards to finance, technology and capacity-building).” I suspect the caveat (that developing country support is required to reach emission reduction targets), which I have heard stated elsewhere as well, may well be a sort of insurance mechanism, since the government is well aware that, in the current global economic “climate,” developed nations are unlikely to earmark large amounts of money to be spent on projects or schemes to reduce GHG emissions in the developing world. Consequently, when South Africa does not reach the quoted targets (which appear to me to be exceptionally ambitious, especially given the construction of the very carbon intensive Medupi power plant near Lephalale), it will allow us to simply claim that our inability to meet targets is a consequence of insufficient international aid. In a country with per capita GHG emissions as large as ours, should we not also produce an implementable plan for GHG emission control (if not reduction), in the absence of external aid?