While renewables around the world are accelerating, in South Africa their implementation has stalled in favour of more polluting technologies.
The short term political biased view, is not only short sighted but irresponsible. As usual the poorer in society will be the people that suffer the most, as we go blinkered down the path of pursuing fossil fuels rather than renewables.
For hundreds of years renewables in the form of water and wind power dominated the energy arena. Global warming or average global temperatures remained constant.
With the advent of the industrial revolution in the 18th century coal started to be mined and used for steam. Smog and pollution grew at a huge rate, but was insignificant in changing global temperatures, the biggest effects being to health and respiratory diseases.
Transportation that had relied heavily on the horse for the movement of people and cargo, also changed with the industrial revolution. Initially canals were heavily used, but were soon replaced by railways steam and coal.
The use of oil boomed with petroleum and diesel for the motorcar, trains and shipping. Car volumes grew progressively around the world as people demanded independent transport. By the 1990’s some 39,4m cars were being sold annually, today that figure is 79m.
The global population growth is the common denominator to the growth of global warming or increases in temperatures. 60 years ago around 2,5billion people on the planet has soared by almost 300% to 7,5b people by 2020.
More people equals more personal carbon footprints, linked to the use of carbon based fuels, coal for electricity, petroleum products for transportation. More people also results in more food needed and livestock now accounts for 18% of greenhouse gases through methane. Staple crops such as rice that feeds 50% of the world population is also becoming a major contributor to methane.
Life expectancy has risen with medicine to treat diseases. Mortality of infants has fallen particularly in Africa and the poorer regions of the east.At the same time as population growth, an insatiable lust for consumable products and building has had the consequence of massive deforestation, changing weather patterns as well as reducing carbon gas mitigation.
Despite climate change deniers arguing over scientific evidence, common sense shows that over the last 200 years there has been major change in the world. The growth of greenhouse gases from all of the areas mentioned above, and others, is attributable to the population growth and what man demands.
With projections of global population growth over the next 30 years, let alone 80 years, it is little wonder that the scientists are terrified of the potential consequences from global warming attributable to man’s insatiable lust for products that produce carbons.
Although small on the world stage, South Africa, with the 2nd largest economy on the ‘dark continent’ is a significant contributor to not working towards reducing carbon emissions.
We have coal, and lots of it. But coal when used for electricity generation, pumps out about 1kg of carbon for every kWh. Each kWh generated also uses approximately 1 litre of water.
Renewables in the form of Wind and Solar PV produce zero carbons per kWh.
Cynics of renewables point to the amount of carbons used in their production, however the amount of electricity or carbons generated during the manufacture of the solar PV cell is recovered within 2 to 3 years of its life. A similar story exists for wind power generation. If the amount of carbon emissions generated from concrete and steel was added to power stations (both coal and nuclear), their carbon footprints would escalate dramatically.
South Africa also enjoys one of the best climates in the world for solar and wind power. Not only is every kWh produced by renewables cheaper than new coal fired power kWh’s, and also nuclear, every renewable kWh produces no carbon and uses no water.
Indirectly one industry that uses huge amounts of electricity is perhaps South Africa’s largest contribution to helping climate change mitigation. The platinum industry, where PSG’s are used extensively in catalytic converters in exhaust systems on engines and particularly motorcars around the world, has resulted in cleaner cars since the 1970’s.
South Africa faces huge challenges in job creation.
With a population that has grown from 17,6m in 1960 to over 56m in 2016 or over 300% in the period, it is perhaps not surprising that the unemployment rates are 27% and over 55% in the youth (ages 15 to 24) in 2017. Depressingly the unemployment of the youth is only expected to rise. The consequence will be a lost generation of unemployable people.
While Eskom employs some 43,000 people and the coal industry some 92,000, claims that renewables are going to put coal miners or associated industries out of work are totally unrealistic. Like it or not our electricity will be dominated by burning coal for the next 30 years (96% today is coal based).
Construction of new power stations Medupi and Kusile each employ approximately 8,000 people each. In contrast large utility scale renewables have created around 8,000 jobs during construction and an anticipated 18,000 ongoing.
‘At home’ renewables in the form of solar water heaters and rooftop solar PV (electricity generation) have received little support from government. The solar water heating roll out program into low income homes created around 6,000 jobs for a 2 year period (2010-2012) in installation and manufacturing. Most of those have disappeared.
With no subsidies or incentives of any type for consumers to go renewable at home , the number of jobs today in the installation of rooftop solar PV and solar water heaters at homes and businesses is probably only around 1,000.
However the opportunity for job creation around the country, with solar water heaters and rooftop solar PV being installed is substantial. With approx. 5m RDP homes and another 4m homes in middle and upper income brackets, there is a huge opportunity for job creation.
Solar water heating already provides cheaper hot water than electricity. Solar electricity (PV) could enable all homes to go ‘off grid’ or at least remove 80% of their reliance on mains generated power.
Some estimates put the number of ‘green jobs’ that could be created as high as 50,000-100,000 people involved in the installation of these technologies on a permanent basis. Most importantly jobs would be created around the country, not just at the site of a power station. The opportunity for youth to be employed and become skilled as artisans in solar, plumbing, electrics and building is an exciting prospect.
Sadly, expecting government to promote the area of end user renewables is a forlorn hope. Lip service will be paid by the occasional tender, and the installation of some solar geysers will probably occur, but as with past experience will be wrapped up with elements of preferential treatment and almost certainly corruption.
The consumer taking the decision to go solar, not as a result of government initiatives, will create the jobs. Why will the consumer go renewable, because it will be much cheaper than buying electricity from Eskom or their resellers. It is just a question of time.
Whether those climate change deniers agree or not, they cannot argue with the changing weather patterns in South Africa. The droughts of 2015 and 2016 changed the farming industry. Going forward the ongoing droughts in the Western Cape, will force changes on the urban communities.
The lack of investment in water and sanitation is increasingly presenting massive logistical problems. As the population grows, the demand on water increases, and clean potable water will become a valuable resource.
While renewables cannot solve this problem, reducing South Africa’s carbon footprint, by moving from coal to large scale renewables, and at home renewables, will make a difference to contributing towards climate change mitigation and saving water consumed by Eskom in making electricity. At the same time ‘at home’ renewables can contribute significantly to job creation around the country.
So at it simplest it is up to you the consumer. If and when you go solar you will save money, reduce your carbon footprint, and create jobs.
It is a win-win for everyone other than Eskom, and with their recent past record, who cares about them anyway.
Ubersolar is passionate about renewables and in particular solar water heaters. Why? Because they are the one renewable technology that benefits the end user and pays itself off in as little as 2 years and provides financial savings giving extraordinary financial returns. With hot water electrical heating consuming 35% to 60% of the monthly electricity bill, the time has come for everyone to ‘Get a Quote’, go solar, save money and the environment.