This volume of the Alive-2-Green “Energy Handbook” series is a landmark issue. After 4 volumes of this essential guide, this specific volume now contains information on both efficiency and renewable energy interventions, with cutting edge articles by various authors.
The articles in this Volume can act as immediate starters for an active energy debate. They provide insight into the present realities of job creation, using intelligent building materials, and how to change perceptions which affect human behavior.
The guideline to South Africa’s way forward in the near term, the “National Development Plan 2030, Our Future – Make it Work” document does show pointers, such as …… “Produce sufficient energy ….. whilst reducing carbon emissions ….. Private Public Partnerships on energy and environmental sustainability …. etc.. This also requires new spatial norms and standards for inter alia densifying cities, upgrading informal settlements, and closing the housing needs gaps.
Renewable energy is the new buzzword in South Africa and Africa. The most recognizable of these are wind and solar energy photovoltaic farms. Several projects will come on stream in South Africa over the next 5 to 10 years. Natural gas is also being targeted with Royal Shell already having secured an exploration licience for fracking – even before the water needs have been analysed or secured. Sasol has heavily invested in mining gas in Mozambique. It is only a matter of time before renewables (wind and solar) reach price parity with fossil fuel generation.
African economies are growing at breakneck speed, in contrast to more mature economies worldwide. Growth provides investment opportunities and infra-structure upgrades. More recently, this growth is being fuelled by the Indo-Chinese economic penetration of the African continent. This all requires energy, which in turn creates the CO2 pollution from fossil thermal power plants, the impact of wind farms on birdlife, and the as yet undefined radiation risks from reflective solar energy harvesting.
The availability of donor funds to improve energy supply and usage for all sectors of the population should not cause over-hasty and under-researched energy decisions. There is no doubt that national and provincial environmental boards and agencies are already overwhelmed just by the E.I.A. needs of the present energy projects. This can result in a ‘development at all costs’ mentality, with serious habitat and bio-diversity loss.
The sad legacy of a largely untrained workforce, a lack of skills and managerial ability, as well as underfunded research and development programmes, means that any predictions regarding the energy future of South Africa can only be ‘guesstimates’. For much the same reasons, any hi-tech energy management system is not always applicable in this country.
However, using both efficiency and renewable options to kick-start energy sustainability projects can be positive. One common problem occurs though, when the conventional ‘business-as-usual’ sequence of carrying out engineering projects is expected or required to achieve meaningful community involvement. This often leads to false expectations, as well as the intrusion of local politics and its various hidden agendas. The effectiveness of such community involvements has yet to be shown to be consistently successful. This learning curve still has to be refined – possible in a future Volume of the Handbook.
This issue is dynamic, applies at all levels of energy interventions, and now needs robust research and analysis. The smoke screens of ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘human rights culture’ are a large cause of slow or sometimes even no decision making, (c.f. article on Round 3 of REIPPP). This impasse and political dilly-dallying can seriously impede the country’s economic growth and development.
The challenges are numerous, but not insurmountable, as South Africa is now part of the global village. It is however imperative that all the built-environment professionals do away with their ‘building silo’ attitude and the business-as-usual approach. This is no longer sustainable and does not serve our country well (witness Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile – ‘old school’ coal power plants).
The existence of one regulatory authority on the country’s electricity distribution network at least means uniform requirements, such as the bird proofing of power lines. This unified policy could become seriously fragmented and weakened if a number of “retail power distributors” (and IPPP) were to enter the market. This debate is now at the incipient stage.
Another important aspect to debate is the apparently simple definition of a building site. Changes here could have serious implications on the manner of energy provision. Optimizing the available energy supply can be achieved by less regulation, more efficient usage, and by more use of renewables.
In general, it is advisable that African governments partner with private companies to develop this continent’s infrastructure. A new phenomenon is the take-over by Chinese and Indian contractors on Africa’s infrastructure projects, the so-called ‘non-traditional’ enterprises. They can do the same quality of work, but at considerable cost-savings. The environmental assessments are based on very limited bio-data. These may not be robust enough to make scientifically valid conclusions about the impact.
Buildings, and their systems to make them habitable, efficient and work-conducive, absorb some 30 to 35% of all energy produced. A new approach is the zero energy building. This is analysed in some detail in this Volume. It applies to energy, as well as water, waste, greenhouse gas emission, and carbon footprint and ecological ‘loss’. Our government has adopted these principles, in its National Green Building framework, to inter alia green its own estate, drive the private sector to become more green and to eco-label construction materials.
It is hoped that you, the reader, will find many challenges, some industry issues, and some proposed solutions, when reading the articles in this Handbook. Practical measured results as well as numerous company and product profiles add to the scientific text to give you a complete picture. It also profiles some of the top companies and organizations that are represented in the sustainable and renewable energy sectors.
My personal gratitude as editor goes to the many authors and researchers who helped to make this volume a representative document of the energy status in South Africa today.
Finally, many thanks to my support team at Alive-2-Green, who have excelled themselves in their efforts to get Volume 5 of the Handbook to you, our readers.