Coherent Policies and bottom up Hybrid energy solutions could assist Zuma with triple challenge


“Arbitrary controlled targets may serve as a guide, but are in fact a hindrance”
Dr Ruth Rabinowitz .Director MamaEarth (an NGO that promotes healthy people on a healthy planet)

15thFeb 2012.

At RIO+20, a rigorous process will require world politicians to systematically review their progress in addressing the growing and interrelated problems of an earth under threat from pollution of air and water, garbage dumped in seas and lands, water shortage, depleting resources and overcrowded cities. They will assess the impact of this worrying compendium on fish, food security, disease, disparities between rich and poor, poverty, and the parlous state of the world’s economy, issues Pres Zuma promised to address with his infrastructure build program.  But the enabling environment required from SA’s environmental and energy legislation, inextricably intertwined in their impact on the range of criteria measured, does not assist South Africans to match actions to policies.

A major shift to Renewable Energy (RE) is cited as a national priority. But facts do not support the thesis. As of March 2012, 1415 Megawatts  (MW) has been allocated, following a bidding process which resulted in allocation of 634 MW to wind 632MW to solar photovoltaics (PV) and 150 MW to concentrated solar power (CSP).  The 3725 target set in the White Paper in 2003 will hopefully be reached once further bidding processes are completed this year. In only 7 months, a 10 year target will be reached if all projects come on stream within the next two years. A further 18000 MW over 20 years is the current target, comprising mainly wind and solar PV (8.4 GW each), 1 Giggawatt (GW) of CSP and 0.4 GW of hydro, biomass, landfill gas and biogas. This largely arbitrary, controlled target may serve as a guide, but is in fact a hindrance to the local growth of RE as a form of job creation and investment in SA.  Centralized legislation may have been the only way to achieve rapid implementation of projects, but a more decentralized approach would lead to a more accurate reflection of the country’s ability to make best use of its superb solar radiation.  The low target for CSP plants, that could replace entire coal fired power stations or nuclear plants, is a glaring deficit. CSP has scope to develop a local industry, unlike imports from China for wind and PV. The absence of waste to electricity in the Integrated Resource Plan also demonstrates a failure to respond to the country’s potential and need.

Better use of waste to generate energy would assist in reducing the burden of ever increasing loads of garbage on the land and water, and would be an excellent steady back up source of power for hybrid systems that include solar PV and CSP, wind, hydro and biomass. Most municipalities are running out of dumping ground. Some burn waste releasing a toxic mix of noxes, soxes and coxes into the atmosphere along with methane, mercury and chlorine vapor. In dumps near the sea , the toxic cocktail flows unhindered into adjacent estuaries, rivers and sea. Despite a government program to control tire dumping there is limited capacity in SA to safely dispose of them. Tires contain a host of toxic products, which, released into the food chain, contribute to diabetes, cancer, fetal abnormalities and a range of other illnesses.

Thanks to stringent UE and EPA standards, the waste incineration technology of old has been superseded by cleaner technologies. Many require complex engineering at great expense. A relatively new technology, thermal recycling, has recently attracted attention for its simplicity, low cost and potential to generate clean energy from waste and to handle acid mine drainage. The technology supports the USmilitary and handles all forms of conventional waste, hazardous medical waste and tires. No methane is emitted and the CO2 emission is 50% less than from a conventional coal fired plant. The final ash that emerges from the process is inert ash that can be used to build roads, bricks and a variety of other construction materials.

The essence of thermal decomposition is the application of heat at 500 degrees in a primary oxygen starved chamber, followed by burning of toxic gases in a secondary chamber at 1200 degrees. Whereas the outdated mass burn incineration released 1600 Kg CO2 /MW and coal fired power stations release 1000 Kg CO2 /MW, thermal recycling releases 480Kg/MW. This can be further reduced by up to 80% using a process that mimics the earth’s filtration of rainwater through sand and rocks.  The end products are alkaline bicarbonate and potable water. A waste stream of 1400 tons of waste per day, produces 50 MW electricity, using 80% less water than coal fired plants.

A major obstacle to implementation of Waste to Energy programs and others, requiring partnership with the private sector, is poor co ordination between departments of Finance, Energy, Environment, Trade and Industry, Eskom, NERSA and between national, provincial and local governments. The legislative zone is a maze to navigate.

Treasury regularly reclaims unspent billions from municipalities. This money could be spent on an Energy CODESA that unites all the entities vying for a share in energy earnings. It could support a municipal REFIT (set tariff at which RE is bought and fed into the grid) to handle distributed generation below 50 MW. Once we have rationalized, coherent policies, innovative South Africans can contribute to a vibrant energy sector. If they smartly offer hybrid solutions, they will unlock the potential for job creation and energy production that our weather affords, improve our scores on all indices, attract foreign investment, and put SA first in line to receive money from the Green Climate Fund that Praven Gordhan worked hard to establish. They will help address Zuma’s triple challenge of poverty job creation and inequality.  


Dr Ruth Rabinowitz (MB BCh)

The Democracy Foundation/MamaEarth

P.O. Box 437

, Rivonia 2128

T: +27(0)11 802 1826  F: +27(0)11804 4221

M 0825793698

Follow @SAAEA

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