Radical new proposals show how South Africa’s power needs could be met by renewable energy and energy efficiency measures – and not by coal and nuclear.
The authors of the Smart Energy Plan have urged government to reconsider its plans to build new coal and nuclear plants. Its preliminary findings were released at a media event at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town by a network of civil-society organisations called the Electricity Governance Initiative of South Africa (EGI-SA). A peer-reviewed study will be released next year.
The primary aim, said Samantha Bailey, of 350.Org, presenting the study, is to build a positive road map for electricity usage in the future. Currently South Africa is making very big decisions about electricity which could lock us into 40-60 years of contracts and patterns which may be impossible to undo.
Alternatives are more affordable, intelligent and modern than sources like coal or nuclear and have more benefit to the environment and to people.
She pointed out that electricity is a key economic enabler, especially for the poor, and vital for better health services and improved education. But rises in joblessness and inequality were not going to be solved by expanding traditional sources of power. The study had found that many more jobs had been created by alternative energy methods than traditional ones and the trend would increase in the future.
Do we continue polluting and destroying our life support systems, in the name of economic growth, or are we going to take the path of a sustainable, life-giving future? asked Bishop Geoff Davies, executive director of Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute. The EGI findings show that we can meet all our energy needs without resorting to further coal or nuclear power stations.
We are here, said Imam Dr A Rashied Omar, chair of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, to express our deep concern that our public policies are not in sync with the best options for preserving our natural environment, saving energy and alleviating poverty.
The research finds that our current electricity infrastructure is economically uncompetitive, inefficient, unhealthy and based on demand on outdated projections of demand – it has decreased over the past two years as prices soared, the authors of the report say.
The total coal reserve in the country is equal to only 15% of the solar reserve that is available annually, said Bailey. Also, the cost of solar had in fact declined in the past few years, she said.
This report shows us that renewable energy, some of it generated locally, can provide us with all the electricity we need and is far more efficient and cost-effective, than either coal or nuclear energy , said Bishop Davies.
The report highlights that South Africans are paying for Eskom to recover the costs of its infrastructure, which hikes up prices to unaffordable levels. Poor households are increasingly turning to alternative fuel sources such as paraffin when cash is short, and this trend is likely to continue as electricity prices continue rising.
Renewable energy and small-scale energy plants owned and run by individuals and communities, would be a smarter, healthier, more equitable option, the report says.
The concrete recommendations include:
· Boosting the energy access of two million of the poorest households by giving them the chance to install ceilings, solar powered lights and cell phone chargers, at a cost of R13 550 per household. This could be funded by existing economic agencies, like the Renewable Energy Independent power producer programme (REIPPP) or the Integrated National Electrification Programme (INEP).
· Allowing and helping homeowners to supply energy to the grid
· Introducing changes to how mining and other industries use power, which could slash their energy use by 45% to 50%
· Phasing out aluminium smelters
The authors of the Smart Electricity Plan are Liziwe McDaid of SAFCEI and Green Connection, Robert Fischer and Brenda Martin of Project 90 by 2030, Dr Yvette Abrahams of Gender CC, and Samantha Bailey of 350.org.
The research was conducted using a tool called SNAPP (Sustainable National Accessible Power Planning), developed by the Energy Research Centre (ERC) at the University of Cape Town.
Ongoing contributors to the plan include Andrew Marquard and Jesse Burton of the Energy Research Centre at UCT, Saul Roux and Hilton Trollip of the City of Cape Town, Gary Kendall of the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, and Corporate Sustainability Consultant Robert Zipplies.
At the time of the abolition of slavery, added Bishop Davies, slave owners in the US and Britain claimed that their businesses would collapse without slavery. In fact, treating people with respect improved business. Now we need to treat the natural world with respect.
We believe nuclear energy is not necessary and will burden the citizens of South Africa with huge toxic debts that will sap resources from essential social development.
We want to work with our government in developing an electricity policy for a sustainable and healthy future. As faith communities we hope and pray we will be responsible to God in caring for the future of people and life on this planet, our only home.