Distributive policy

A strong renewable energy policy would boost energy transformation in South Africa

Last month, the United Nations Environment Program published the annual report Global Renewable Energy Status Report 2022 At New York. Traditionally, this report has been dominated by case studies of countries that were doing exceptionally well, contrasting with those that were at the bottom of the pack. It was encouraging to see that the gap is slowly closing and that we in South Africa can learn a lot from the progress seen around the world.

Ryno Jordaan, Chief Technology Officer at New Southern Energy

Renewables enjoyed another year of record power capacity growth, despite aftershocks from the pandemic and a rise in global commodity prices that upended renewable energy supply chains and delayed projects. In short, the key findings were that renewables generated 28.3% of global electricity in 2021, similar to 2020 (28.5%) and up from 20.4% in 2011 For the first time, the share of variable renewable energy generated by wind and solar mix exceeded 10% globally, which is significant.

Global investment in renewables and fuels increased for the fourth consecutive year, reaching $366 billion and solar PV maintained its record streak, adding 175 GW of new capacity in 2021 to reach a cumulative total of around 942 GW.

Despite supply chain disruptions, shipping delays and rising wind and solar power component prices, renewable energy capacity additions grew 17% in 2021 to a new high of more than 314 GW of additional capacity. Total installed renewable energy capacity increased by 11% to around 3,146 GW, although this is far from the deployment needed to keep the world on track to reach net zero emissions by 2050. However, what is clear is that renewable energies remain the most affordable. source of energy to both improve economic resilience and support decarbonization.

Renewable Energy Support Policies and Goals

An interesting finding is that by the end of 2021, nearly every country in the world had a policy in place to support renewables, continuing a multi-year trend of increasing numbers. By the end of 2021, 169 countries had some type of goal in place (either economy-wide or in specific sectors) at the national and/or state or provincial level to increase adoption of renewable energies. By the end of the year, at least 135 countries and about 1,500 cities had some form of renewable electricity target. And more than 40 countries have agreed to stop funding new coal-fired power plants.

Global utility-scale centralized solar PV capacity additions increased by approximately 20%, with 100 GW of new installations, driven by the economic competitiveness of solar and the attractiveness of power purchase agreements of electricity. Distributed solar photovoltaic installations increased by approximately 25%, adding 75 GW, due to the surge in electricity prices which caused entities to rely on self-consumption and reduce their dependence on the distribution network, in wherever possible. South Africa’s sunny climate puts us in an excellent position to go further.

Global Concentrated Solar Power Capacity

In 2021, over 1 GW of combined concentrated solar (CSP) capacity was under construction in Chile, China, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa. Most of them are based on parabolic technology and are built in parallel with thermal energy storage (TES). By the end of the year, 23 GWh of TES in conjunction with CSP plants was operating on five continents, representing 40% of the world’s energy storage capacity outside of pumped hydropower.

In South Africa, we have some of the world’s most prolific concentrated solar power plants in Karoshoek, Kaxu, Khi and Xina in the Northern Cape, with new ones currently under construction in Bokpoort and Redstone. They provide large-scale power generation and have been outstanding in job creation, however, an additional allowance is missing from the current Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Some argue that this technology is too expensive and takes too long to build compared to wind and solar PV, but their ability to store energy for use in peak load reduction is highly beneficial.

Inclusive energy governance

The opportunities offered by a renewable energy-based economy and society include the ability to achieve more diverse and inclusive energy governance through localized energy production. It has been proven in many cases that countries with a higher share of renewable energy in their total energy consumption enjoy a greater level of energy independence and security, which is exactly what the South Africa must aim. A renewable energy policy with ambitious targets is essential to accelerate progress in this regard.

Renewable energy has proven to be very effective in increasing national resilience to shocks – such as climate change, pandemics, economic fluctuations and conflicts. Energy access and gender equality are also closely linked and sit at the crossroads of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. South Africa has only committed in the Paris Agreement to be net zero by 2050, which is always important, but first we need to stabilize our energy supply.

Opportunity abounds

Eskom CEO Andre De Ruyter has publicly stated that South Africa’s energy future depends on adding a significant amount of renewable energy to the country’s pool. Last week, he outlined Eskom’s vision for a just energy transition at the Africa Renewable Energy Investment Summit in Cape Town, and he made sure to hear that renewables are at the heart of his vision.

However, he is right to express empathy for small towns whose entire livelihood depends on coal-fired power plants. It would be contrary to the spirit of ubuntu just close those factories and walk away and there’s no need to do that because opportunities abound. Many of these regions have land available to start building renewable power plants, and now is the time to start honing and retraining people. Not only will the apprehension of shifting to new forms of power be assuaged, but we will avoid a potential bottleneck and achieve results more quickly.

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Ryno Jordan