Ahead of the Department of Energy’s closing date for stakeholder engagement in the national Integrated Energy Plan and Integrated Resource Plan, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is underscoring the importance of South Africa’s need to embrace renewable energy as the country’s single largest potential energy source.
As James Reeler, WWF’s Land and Climate Project Manager, explains: “The Integrated Energy Plan and Integrated Resource Plan are two key national plans that outline the country’s energy future to 2050. Unfortunately, the first drafts of these energy plans fall well short of the ideals articulated in the government’s own National Development Plan.”
In response to these energy mix proposals, WWF and many other organisations have made submissions to government asking for a better basis for driving the national energy policy.
In March, thousands of South Africans signed a petition asking Eskom to commit to more renewable energy. This shows a collective desire for a cleaner energy future.
Responding to the dangers of climate change, South Africa made a strong commitment in 2016 to take part in the global effort to reduce emissions of harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The energy sector is the main source of these gases in South Africa. Hence the goal of reducing the impacts of climate change can only be achieved by moving away from dirty carbon-emitting fossil fuels, especially coal-fired power plants which also have damaging health side effects for those who live near to them.
Clean energy provision is therefore essential to enable South Africa to realise our national developmental goals of human wellbeing and a low carbon economy.
Ensuring an enabling environment for achieving both these goals is a key role for government, which sets the ground rules for national development. Government has the opportunity to drastically influence our direction towards eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by ensuring that the environment can sustain us.
In addition to a number of problematic assumptions in the proposed energy plans (such as the assumption that we can obtain cheap and easy gas by fracking in vulnerable ecosystems, or the unlikely concept of cheap nuclear power), these documents also contain specific policy restrictions on the use of renewable energy into the power mix.
Wind and solar power are now demonstrably the cheapest sources of power in the world, and through smart investments in electric vehicles and transport, the possibility exists to move completely away from the fossil-fuel heavy development paradigm that is destroying the world.
WWF believes that South Africa needs to embrace renewable energy and build on the good start made by the internationally-lauded Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPP) to decarbonise the energy sector.
At the same time, steering away from costly nuclear power and dirty coal is the best financial decision we can make. This low carbon transition does however need to be thoughtful and just. By developing most of the renewable energy technologies locally, and providing targeted training and investment, South Africa has the potential to generate far more jobs in energy than will be lost from coal mining.
“The key is in linking these processes, and ensuring those who have laboured for so long in the coal dust, and below ground, are not left out of our sunny solar-powered future,” says Reeler.
“Changing the energy economy of the country is an opportunity to shrug off our dirty energy trajectory and embrace a more equitable, cleaner future. Let’s hope we seize this opportunity, and that future generations can look back on our energy plans as the start of a better world.’’