Other Features > Renewable energy
To encourage a broad understanding of comparisons between nuclear and renewable energy generation options, it is important to review the basics.
The key difference between nuclear power and renewable energy options is that nuclear uses highly concentrated energy, the release of which must be extremely carefully managed. Renewable energy, on the other hand, is dispersed and requires infrastructure to collect. This has led to a widespread perception that renewable energy is insufficient to support industrialised society, regardless of the actual extent of the resource potential, which far exceeds what humans could use. A study of the availability of solar and wind resources in South Africa by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) shows how the country could supply double its current electricity use from wind and solar power.
A difference that receives a lot of attention is that renewable resources are variable, with availability at any particular time depending on the weather, while a nuclear power plant is ‘inflexible’, being designed to run continuously.
From solar panels and rainwater collection to wind power and rooftop gardens, roofs are steadily becoming more than just a shelter from the elements. Harnessing the elements and putting them to functional use, a roof is now an essential, integrated part of how homes and businesses function in the long term, and a platform for an off-grid solution.
The Eco-mc2 compressed air hydraulic energy storage system could revolutionise energy storage in South Africa. A winner at the WWF Climate Solver Awards earlier this year, a top five finalist in the Eco-Innovation category of this year’s Eco-Logic Awards and a top 10 finalist in the Global Cleantech Innovation Programme, its application is particularly relevant for renewable energy where conventional battery storage is thought to be expensive, bulky and environmentally toxic.
South Africa’s first commercial biogas plant, in Bronkhorstpruit, east of Pretoria, is the product of perseverance, good partnerships and lateral thinking. For over eight years, entrepreneur Sean Thomas, CEO of Bio2Watt, waded through untested waters, eventually setting a precedent for future biogas-to-electricity projects with a 10-year off-take agreement with BMW.
Renewable energy advocates are determined to make good on the missed opportunities of the 2008 energy crisis and see renewable energy play a more dominant role in South Africa’s energy mix. The marriage of technological know-how and financial expertise is ensuring this happens, and doing away with the common objection that renewable energy is “too expensive”.
Globally, the renewable energy revolution is gaining momentum, and renewable resource-rich South Africa is striving to keep up. Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) recently reported that a tipping point has been reached and the world is now adding more renewable power capacity each year than new coal, natural gas, and oil capacity combined.
In April 2015, the South African government announced the successful projects in the fourth round of the renewable energy independent power producers programme (REIPPP), bringing the total number of projects approved to 79. The 41 projects already online are making a valuable contribution during the current power crisis South Africa is facing, and the renewable energy rollout is gathering pace in the country.
Installing solar PV on residential and business rooftops allows users to generate power for themselves and to feed excess power into the national electricity grid, and is heralding a quiet solar revolution that could change the way South Africa’s energy sector works. But what are the implications and how should we best manage this new reality?
Durban leads the country in generating electricity from waste through two landfill sites that are currently earning carbon credits and providing the blueprint for further plants in the province.
For grid-connected photovoltaics (PV), cost should no longer be an obstacle, but be prepared for red tape. South Africa has one of the best solar resources in the world, yet does not feature at all when compared with a country like Germany in the adoption of residential and building-scale rooftop solar photovoltaic electricity production. Ordinary Germans now own half of the country’s renewable energy generation capacity, making up a significant proportion – roughly one sixth – of the country’s total capacity. What’s holding us back?
This year will see the production of renewables in South Africa with the rollout of numerous solar-power plants, wind farms and a smattering of small hydro plants as the implementation phase of the government’s flagship Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme kicks into gear.
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