Is Climate Change A Huge Con?

Is Climate Change A Huge Con?

Can solar water heating, solar PV and renewables make a difference? James Green of the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa and CEO of Ubersolar shifts through some of the latest propaganda and argument

Sir David Attenborough puts it simply when he asks the question of whether global warming around the world is being caused by natural causes or is climate change being contributed to by human activity. Professor Peter Cox using a large graph shows what is happening.

I highly recommend the 3-minute video that demonstrates the status and it convinces me. click her for video

Two programs by the HBO highly respected documentary program VICE, one on Antarctica, and the other on Greenland are frightening in that the rate of ice melt will result in sea levels rising dramatically, it is really only a question of how fast.

Climate change dissenters are less convincing (in my opinion) in their arguments. Lord Charles Monckton a self-publicized proponent of climate change is a hoax argument, has always been an advocate of conspiracies and denier of reality. (I spent several years at school with him).

Not being a scientist myself, the arguments being put forward by Greenpeace, WWF, celebrities such as Leonardo de Caprio, Al Gore, and thousands of others, supported by an immense amount of scientific data are overwhelmingly more convincing than the antis, who are supported, not surprisingly, by the very companies that earn their profits out of carbon emitting fuels such as coal and hydrocarbons (oil and gas).

Drawing on personal experience some 30 years ago as an insurance broker, the insurance underwriters of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were saying that climate change then was a reality. The number of hurricanes would increase both in number and ferocity and they have. Likewise the weather patterns would progressively result in more extremes of flood and drought and other natural disasters around the world, and they have.

The 2015/16 drought in Southern Africa is a harsh reality of what is happening. Without rain, crops fail, people starve, and without water we can’t even have power. Across the Southern Atlantic in South America, Sao Paulo, a mega city of 23m people is running out of water. In Uruguay their hydro power is suffering from no water in the rivers. Closer to home in Zimbabwe and Zambia, Lake Kariba is at crisis levels, with load shedding for 20 hours a day, and soon may need to be turned off altogether.

Has mankind created an Armageddon scenario through denial, which will sometime in the next 100 years cause untold humanitarian disasters, and how can we all contribute towards slowing the process, or at least adapt our lifestyles to enable the human race to exist in a world that faces its largest ever challenge.

Going Green - The Technologies are already here

Individually we can do little to combat the inevitable explosion in global population growth, or the frequency of natural disasters, but the consumer can reduce their carbon footprint.

Elon Musk (a South African) has shown that solar PV and new battery technology could power the world without the use of hydrocarbons. Whether it is his battery technology or other innovation is a reason for optimism in that mankind will always find a way to survive.

At the domestic level in South Africa it is heartening to see the number of people that are working towards taking themselves completely off the grid, using both solar water heaters and solar photo voltaic electric. While this requires substantial investment, as the prices of renewable technologies continue to fall, and the price of electricity continues to rise, the economic argument is inevitable.

It will soon be cheaper to be self sufficient in power terms than to buy from Eskom or the municipal reseller of electricity. This can be achieved in two main ways, solar water heaters to save electricity used in electric geysers to heat water, and solar PV electricity generation to power lights and appliances.

Large Scale Green vs Small Scale Green

One major difference between the large scale renewable energy generation (REIPPP’s) and end user market is the bankability of the technologies. Not surprisingly the banks embraced with enthusiasm the funding of the REIPPP’s certainly in Rounds 1 and 2 of the Department of Energy renewable energy program.

It was certainly very attractive, when the government through DOE committed to long term contracts over 20 years, with prices paid per kWh that resulted in paybacks on capital invested on the wind, PV or CSP technologies within a few years.

For Eskom it was less attractive being forced to pay more per kWh of clean energy generated than they could generate themselves through coal fired generation. The same kWh effectively had to be sold at a loss by Eskom to consumers. However it was arguably cheaper than Eskom using their gas turbines (OCGT’s) to produce electricity at over R4 per kWh back in 2014, and of course it provided substance to Eskom reducing their carbon footprint, a condition of the financing from the World bank on Medupi and Kusile (Eskom’s new coal fired power stations under construction).

At the consumer level for renewables, the banks were and have remained far less enthusiastic. Two reasons are the amount of work involved for the financial return, would you prefer to arrange the finance on a Jumbo or Cessna where the work is much the same but one transaction is for $200m and the Cessna is $1m. The second reason is the lack of a 2nd hand or pre-owned solar water heater or Solar PV system market. No bank wants to be left with a defaulting customer and not be able to recover the investment, let alone sell it. In other words the finance companies are not yet prepared to look at consumer renewable products in the same way as car finance, or financing a photocopier.

This will change as the price of electricity goes up, the price of solar technology continues to fall, and the financial equation improves in respects of the payback on capital (like the REIPPP’s) and the Return on Investment for the end user becomes very attractive. This will provide the environment for pre-owned renewables to be attractive, and the probability of default risk also reduces.

Saving Electricity and Saving Carbon Emissions With End User Renewables

A major upside of all renewables is the amount of carbons and indeed water that can be saved in the generation of electricity used by coal fired power stations. At a simple level about 1kG of carbon gases are emitted for every kWh used and about 1,5litres of water.

As electric geyser heating will consume between 12-20kWh per day for a family of 4, and with over 6 million homes the numbers quickly add up. Using solar water heating can replace up to 100% of both carbons and water used.

Solar (rooftop) PV will also progressively contribute. As has been pointed out above battery costs and technology will remain an impediment for some time as the commercial argument means that it is still far cheaper to use Eskom or the municipal supplier at night than to use ones own battery stored power. Why logically would you pay R3,00 to use your own solar power when you can still buy it at R2,00. (The R3,00 is based on the number of cycles the batteries will provide, and the cost of replacing the batteries in a few years time).

However, as the price of electricity rises, it will then make more sense to use one’s own solar electric power at night, and with the price of battery technology falling it may well be within a few years time.

The simple conclusion is that solar water heaters are the lowest hanging fruit in the home for saving carbons. Up to 60% of a home’s carbon footprint can be simply removed and the financial argument to go for solar water heating is really a ‘no brainer’.

A Changing World

At the time of writing the United Kingdom is in a referendum on BREXIT. The reality is that if Britain does leave, nobody actually knows what is going to happen. It may be better or worse, and only time will tell.

The referendum vote will have been heavily influenced by the Syrian refugee crisis. There is fear and apprehension within Britain of the influx of refugees. But it is worth remembering that a trigger point for the events in Syria are climate change, where 3 years of protracted drought caused failed crops, hunger and generally dissent.

When it comes to climate change, despite the dissenters, who are obstinately reluctant to face the facts, there is no doubt that man made carbons are changing the climate, and for the majority of people it is probably for the worse. The Antarctic ice melt, not the sea ice, which ebbs and flows, but the ice fields collapsing into the sea will result in sea levels rising. The experts are now predicting that a 3 to 5 metres rise is inevitable within 50 years. This will reshape low-lying areas, such as Manhattan, and in particular areas like Bangladesh. It is already happening and the humanitarian disasters will be immense with experts predicting over 300m people being displaced.

Does that matter to South Africans or the people of Southern Africa. It should, because it will result in additional severe droughts, extreme weather, floods, and periodical shortages of food. All these factors are contributors to crime, (already a huge problem), poverty, and other misfortune, none of which is in the human interest. The events in Syria are a reminder of the domino effect of what can happen.

In the meanwhile South Africa has, and is, doing relatively little to improve its carbon footprint. There has been a prevailing lack of urgency to do anything, other than to introduce a carbon tax, (now promised for 2017) which while it may increase the funds into the fiscus are unlikely actually to be spent on carbon reductions, in the same way as the environmental levy (collected by Eskom and municipal resellers) does not find its way into environmental improvement projects.

The consumer can make the difference by removing electricity that can be substituted by solar thermal (solar water heating), and progressively removing their reliance on grid supplied electricity through solar PV. It is not in the business interest of Eskom or the municipal resellers of electricity for this to happen, but the stark reality is that it must, if we have any thought for the future generations.

Does it Matter and the Financial Argument

The prevailing culture of non-accountability within government both nationally and locally has combined with the never ending corruption dulled much of the South African public into a state of resignation. The frequent reaction of people when asked how they are being ‘Can’t complain’ is either misplaced optimism or further resignation that if one does complain it doesn’t get one anywhere.

When the water runs out and the power fails more than it did, people will start to complain, and initially it will show amongst those in lower income brackets, with protests about service delivery. Of course when climate change makes it even worse, with food shortages, or food becoming unaffordable, the effects will be worst for the poor.

I believe that it is beyond doubt that climate change is one of the biggest challenges that faces the future of all countries and in particular South Africa.

Can South Africans make a difference? The answer is a resounding ‘YES’. Everyone using an electric geyser for heating water, some 5+million homes, can easily reduce their carbon footprints by going solar.

Indeed, although South Africa lags Europe for environmental awareness, the irony is that the levels of solar radiation is high, and the price of solar thermal affordable for most, that it makes total financial sense to go solar now, irrespective of whether one cares or not about the future or climate change.

As a parent, and I believe all parents want the best for their children, we owe it to them and their children and grandchildren to act responsibly towards the future.

Contact for SWH systems and pricing or Brett +27 (0)74 160 6093
James Green
James Green
CEO of Ubersolar and Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa (SESSA SWHDC)