Gearing South Africa for a Green economy


Leadership Intelligence Bulletin in an effort to help stimulate debate in the energy arena amongst South African businesses, consumers and thought leaders publishes this opinion piece – produced by the Government Communication Information System’s National Energy Efficiency Campaign, Save It! The article aims to orientate readers towards South Africa’s current energy scene, and the government’s commitment to produce greener forms of energy.

This is a first contribution aims at setting the holistic scene. More contributions might follow and will deal with issues like nuclear power and the dirty coal debate. Comments and debate will be greatly welcomed.

Internationally and in the context of climate change, there is a movement towards energy efficiency and the sustainable use of the planet’s natural resources. This is spurred by the recognition that action is needed now in order to protect global resources for the future.
Global warming is caused by an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which leads to an upsurge in the amount of thermal radiation near the earth’s surface. This in turn causes temperature rises and consequently long-term changes in weather patterns. In layman’s terms, the plant material that has been compressed beneath the earth’s surface over millions of years in the form of fossil fuels is rapidly being consumed by the human race as a source of energy. The burning of these carbon materials to generate power results in greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change, a body of scientists from around the world, we face an average temperature increase of more than 2°C this century if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at their current pace. Fossil fuel dominance is expected to continue to 2030 and beyond and without additional policies, global greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase by 25% to 90% by 2030 relative to the year 2000.

In South Africa, 79% of the country’s electricity is generated through the burning of coal, generally considered to be one of the dirtiest means of power generation. According to the Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT) (2008) South Africa ranks 17th among the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.

Within the context of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the government of has initiated various programmes and policies to expand South Africa’s current energy supply beyond coal-fired power generation and to introduce “cleaner” sources of energy supply.

The government, through the National Energy Efficiency Campaign, Save It! is also developing and implementing strategies to encourage a wide range of stakeholders, including industry and the general public, to use electricity more sparingly and to apply energy-efficient principles to their daily lives.

Copenhagen commitments

At the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December last year, a political agreement was reached by 28 leaders and subsequently endorsed by over 100 countries. This agreement is known as the Copenhagen Accord.

In the Copenhagen Accord, South Africa made very clear commitments to become a clean-energy producer in the future. “Essentially we agreed that we would, as a country, try to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020 and 42% by 2025, based on two conditions. The first is that an international agreement is reached, and the second is that the financing, the technology and the capacity building that would enable us to achieve this is provided by the international community,” says Joanne Yawitch from the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Based on its Copenhagen commitments, the government is putting increasing emphasis on the concept of a ‘green economy’. A green economy focuses on green energy generation based on renewable energy sources to substitute fossil fuels, as well as energy conservation and efficient energy use. Generally it also refers to the job creation potential that could be achieved through the development of clean, renewable energy technologies. Economic analysts predict that clean energy will have the same effect on the global economy as the personal computer revolution of the 1980s.

“Government is committed to cleaner energy. We’ve made commitments in Copenhagen, and we intend to give effect to these commitments. A part of that is to develop a broader industry in terms of the green economy,” says Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Enoch Godongwana.

Towards a green economy

The focus on a green economy is considered so high on the energy agenda that a three-day Green Economy Summit was held in May 2010 at the Sandton Convention Centre.

At the summit the state responded to the call of the United Nations Environment Programme for a global green new deal. President Jacob Zuma announced that a national green economy plan will emerge out of the summit. “We believe that by stimulating investment in green industries, we will be able to contribute to the creation of decent work. In our Medium Term Strategic Framework, which guides government’s programme for 2009 to 2014, we undertake to pursue and further explore the concept of ‘green jobs’ including scaling up labour-intensive natural resource management practices which contribute to decent work and livelihood opportunities,” he said. Many of the government’s plans to stimulate a green economy are covered in the Industrial Policy Action Plan, led by the Department of Trade and Industry, which focuses directly on job creation and creating economic development in the energy sector.

Why coal-fired power stations?

The provision of alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and nuclear power is strongly supported by the government, which is continuously focusing its efforts to meet the energy efficiency target of 12% by 2015 and to enhance renewable energy targets by creating an enabling environment for clean energy.

However, the drive towards clean energy does not mean that coal-fired power stations will immediately be closed down, but rather that South Africa will gradually reduce its dependence on using coal to produce electricity.

Not without some questions raised, South Africa is constructing two brand-new power stations, Medupi and Kusile (the latter is earmarked to be one of the largest coal-fired power stations in the world).

“We need the new power stations essentially because demand and consumption of electricity has been growing,” says Barry Bredenkamp of the Central Energy Fund. “South Africa has not built any new power stations for years. As we go into the future we need to cater for economic growth. From 2024 onwards we also need to replace the old power stations as they become too old to function.

Balancing ‘dirty’ energy with clean supply

A green economy cannot be created overnight. It requires the delicate balance between fostering the development of clean energy technologies and supplying the national grid to support economic development. Currently South Africa uses electricity at a rapidly growing rate. This means that government will have to develop renewable sources of energy and become more energy efficient, over and above the two new coal-fired power stations that are being built.

“Renewable energy is becoming an increasingly viable alternative to the energy sources that fuelled the growth of the developed world. But for Africa to make use of its abundant renewable energy sources, it needs substantial investment, skills, technology and greater economic integration and cooperation,” said President Zuma at the Green Economy Summit. The provision of these skills and technologies is critical if the government is to honour its Copenhagen commitments.

“The greater the extent of a rollout of low-carbon technologies, the less there is going to be a need for further coal power plants into the future. This is the relationship that we are trying to look at and work out how we can get those low-carbon technologies up and running, installed and working in the most rapid possible time-scale so that we can then start to change in a fundamental way,” comments Bredenkamp.

Over and above ensuring South Africa’s future energy supply, government views energy efficiency as one of the most important drivers for a more sustainable energy future. Government’s Save It! campaign encourages South Africans to realise that energy efficiency is everybody’s responsibility and that it does not only lead to more sustainable energy supply, but also to money saving. “Sustainable energy supply is the role of government and Eskom, but it is also the role of each individual in South Africa to take up the responsibility to be energy efficient. Energy efficiency is the most important way to ensure energy sustainability because it does not cost money, it actually saves money,” says energy efficiency expert Dr Elsa du Toit.

Government is approaching South Africa’s energy supply holistically. It realises the importance of the development of a green economy and publicly committed itself to cleaner sources of energy supply in the Copenhagen Accord. At the same time, however, government needs to cater for economic development by ensuring a reliable energy grid and therefore new coal-fired power stations will be built. While doing so, more efficient electricity usage will be stimulated and encouraged by government among a number of stakeholders in order to ensure a more sustainable energy future in South Africa.

(This article is the first of a possible series of opinion pieces developed and distributed by the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) to address South Africa’s energy challenges. Upcoming articles will provide in-depth focus on: the dirty coal debate, energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear power and the future of South Africa’s energy scenario. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Leadership Intelligence Bulletin.)

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