It so happens that Simbarashe Mhuriro turns 33 today. But his young age belies the successes that the youthful entrepreneur has achieved since founding the renewable energy company Oxygen Africa Ltd in 2013. In 2016, Mhuriro was named among Africa’s 30 most promising and inspirational young entrepreneurs by Forbes Magazine as well being recognised by the Africa Youth Awards as one of 100 most Influential Young Africans for that year.
Now with a little over a decade of experience in business and management, the Oxygen Africa Ltd chief executive today leads a company that is developing a pipeline of commercial and industrial rooftop solar projects. The biggest of these ventures is the $28 million Old Mutual Zimbabwe solar project, targeting to install the equivalent of 20 megawatts of solar panels on all the insurer’s commercial properties. Between October 14-22, Mhuriro attended a UN-supported global youth conference in Russia, invited to share his entrepreneurial skills with over 20 000 young men and women from across the world; to talk about how renewable energy could transform economies and livelihoods through partnerships and innovation. We spoke to Mhuriro on his Russia experience, and on other clean energy nitty-gritties. Below is an excerpt of the interview. I am represented JG, and him SM.
JG: You were in Russia for a global youth meeting. Tell us about that meeting and your experience there?
SM: I was invited to make an address on African Energy access at the opening ceremony of the 19th edition of the World Festival of Youth and Students organised by the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY), a United Nations-recognised international youth non-governmental organisation, jointly with the International Union of Students since 1947 and is the largest gathering of youth and students in the world. I also participated in a panel discussion on entrepreneurship and innovation “The Inevitability of Innovation: Devise, Implement and Employ’’. The festival attracted over 20 000 participants from around the world, the opening ceremony was attended by 12 000 youths and the panel discussion had an audience of about 1600.
JG: How important are such conferences to building and developing entrepreneurship for Zimbabwean youth?
SM: Such events are important in bringing together young minds to develop working relations, share ideas and experiences from across the world. It is an opportunity to market your country and present it as an investment destination, together with being a source of innovation and answers to today’s questions around attaining global sustainable development goals.
JG: We understand that you had an opportunity to brief Russian President Vladimir Putin over your renewable energy projects back here at home. Is that right? What did you say to him. . . and what did he say to you?
SM: Yes I had the opportunity to brief the president and his first deputy chief of staff Mr Sergey Kiriyenko on our solar project, ask for more Russian participation in agriculture as they have a massive fertiliser industry that has created six billionaires. The president told me how Russia is doing a lot in the field of renewable energy and has recently started manufacturing solar panels which are considered the best in the world in terms of efficiency and in terms of durability. They (Russians) have been using solar for years to heat up oil pipes that run through the country’s northern regions. I was impressed that solar is sufficient. He sees these sources of energy (oil and solar) being connected and will continue to develop side by side for many years to come.
JG: You were one of a select few speakers at the Russia meeting. What message did you have for budding youth entrepreneurs of the world, particularly as far as clean and renewable sustainable energy is concerned?
SM: Drive and implement the global sustainable development goals, compliment and support your respective governments’ policies and goals in relation to sustainable energy, climate action and the environment. Participate in you countries economic growth; dream big, come up with that big energy idea financiers will flock to. Anything is possible.
JG: Your company, Oxygen Africa Ltd is implementing a 20 megawatt rooftop solar project on buildings owned by Old Mutual Zimbabwe. Can you give us a sense of the progress you have so far made . . . and whether you think the project is scalable?
SM: We are at the final stages of concluding financial closure and moving towards construction of the pilot sites in Harare.
JG: What role can renewable energy play in driving Zimbabwe’s economic and environmental goals? How can Zimbabwean young men and women participate in this transition?
SM: Renewable energy has the opportunity to attract foreign investment, or if locally funded, substitute the importation of power.
The economy cannot grow without reliable sustainable power. There is an opportunity for young men and women to participate right across the value chain of a project from financial and legal advisory, procurement, engineering and construction. I am a big believer in ecosystems where we work in teams to bring a project together, everyone has a seat at the table and each plays their position effectively, delivering results. With regards to environmental goals, we anticipate that upon completion the Old Mutual Zimbabwe project will achieve a net power generation of 32 gigawatts per year and avoid upto 30 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions each year.
JG: While in Russia, you participated in a panel discussion that featured a Russian billionaire and other Russian government ministers. How important was this event to telling the Zimbabwean story on renewables, and whether the Russia visit presented opportunities for investment/partnerships in renewable energy for youth-led businesses?
SM: I took the opportunity to showcase Zimbabwe as an investment destination and place where the policy, corporate and financing framework enables young entrepreneurs to innovate, start businesses and succeed.
We wanted to show what is being done in the renewables space in Zimbabwe from the point of view of a young entrepreneur; the support we have received in developing our project from Old Mutual Zimbabwe, the Government, banks and others. I also stressed how important it is for young entrepreneurs to align their projects to the vision and goals of their clients, government/policy framework and their investors and lenders in order to create an ecosystem where every party can extract value. So we didn’t seek investment opportunities and partnerships per say, but to share our story with youths from across the world and tell them that entrepreneurship is possible in Zimbabwe and Africa and this is what is happening on the ground.
JG: How can such meetings as the one in Russia be made to work for the young Zimbabwean company, partcularly those looking at mitigating the emission of climate damaging gases?
SM: It is an opportunity to learn about new ideas and innovations, how they have been successfully implemented elsewhere so that they can be adopted back home.
It is also a chance to show case what is happening back home and the local innovations invested to tackle environmental issues. Recently I learned about The Tsapo Bag project is an initiative by the Enactus Organisation from the Midlands State University, which manufactures insulation bags from recycled styrofoam waste or kaylite and old vinyl banners. The bag is used to store food and keep it warm by conserving heat. We all know the impact kaylite was having on our environment and this innovation has potential to be scaled up and exported to the region and beyond if given the opportunity to showcase at platforms like that presented in Sochi, Russia
JG: Thank you for your time, Mr Mhuriro.
SM: You are welcome. Thank you.
South Australia’s largest water and sewerage services supplier has become the latest in Australia to turn to renewables to minimise its electricity costs, announcing plans to commission a commercial-scale solar and storage system at its Crystal Brook Workshop site.
In a Request for Tender launched late last week, SA Water Corporation said it was seeking to build a grid-connected, rooftop solar PV system of more than 100kW, along with a 50kWh battery storage system and “smart controls.”
The company, which manages more than 27,000km of water mains, including 9,266 km in the Adelaide metropolitan area, said it was installing the solar and storage system to manage periods of high electricity prices, and to ensure safe and sustainable delivery of water to customers.
“The proposed system shall be behind the meter, and designed to minimise electricity costs via the ability to dispatch stored energy as required,” the tender request said.
“The system should have the ability to smooth grid supplied energy and also to use stored energy on site or export back to the grid.
“Provision of system integration with remotely operated control and energy monitoring interfaces are to be included as part of the system design.”
SA Water Corporation is just one of many water and waste management utilities around the country making the shift to renewables.
As reported on One Step Off The Grid, the energy intensive industry is increasingly turning to solar and/or wind energy to lower costs and help guarantee supply.
In the regional Victorian city of Portland, Wannon Water’s water and sewerage treatment plant will soon be powered entirely by wind energy, with plans for the construction of an 800kW wind turbine revealed in May.
And in March, also in regional Victoria, North East Water launched a tender to install 43kW of solar panels and 40kW of battery storage at its Yakandandah facility.
In Queensland, the City of Gold Coast is proposing to install a series of floating solar PV arrays on its network of wastewater ponds – both to help power the city’s wastewater treatment plants and to cut evaporation from the ponds.
Applications for the SA Water Corporation solar and storage project can be lodged here. Tenders close at 2pm on Thursday July 20.
This article was originally published on RenewEconomy’s sister site, One Step Off The Grid, which focuses on customer experience with distributed generation. To sign up to One Step’s free weekly newsletter, please click here.
So, here’s the good news. Big Oil is increasingly looking at large-scale renewable energy plants as a valid alternative to coal and gas plants – not surprising given the plunging cost of wind and solar technology in the last few years.
Shell is the latest to commit to building large-scale renewables, confirming late last week a promise that it made nearly a year ago that it was looking to invest in wind and solar plants, a shift it hopes will help underpin the demand for gas.
Together, Big Oil hopes, they can kill the coal industry by marrying wind, solar and gas, and they are talking up the climate imperative to help them do so.
But “green gas plants”? This ranks up there with “clean coal” as fossil fuel propaganda, but it is exactly the way that the Murdoch media chose to describe Shell’s promise to combine solar and gas in Oman, Brunei and Australia, trumpeting the headline “Shell to invest in green gas plants” to lead its business section.
Let’s get a few things in perspective. It’s great that Big Oil is increasingly looking at wind and solar for new investments. Dong Energy has already shifted in a big way to wind and will dump coal altogether in a few years. France’s Total is the major shareholder in SunPower.
Shell and the other Big Oil players hope that the world uses more gas and sees the big push towards renewable energy as a major opportunity to create demand for their huge gas reserves: hence their concerted attack on coal as a dirty and unnecessary power source.
But is Shell really going to build new gas plants to partner solar facilities? Hardly. Australia does not have a shortage of gas plants: Most of them sit unused for large chunks of the time, sidelined by cheaper coal or the growth in renewables, and by soaring gas prices.
And its biggest competition will not come from more renewables, which it sees as a potential partner, but from battery storage, particularly as gas prices continue to remain high.
Storage costs are coming down fast, and batteries are much more responsive than gas and can provide more added value – to the grid, in avoiding network investment as well as responding to variations in demand and supply and peak demand events.
And if Shell’s commitment to big solar in Australia sounded just a little vague, there is a reason why,
As the Financial Times points out in its reporting of the press conference late last week, Shell intends to invest less than $1 billion a year in renewables across the globe – just a fraction of its annual capital expenditure of nearly $US30 billion.
And this would include wind farms – already it is contracted to build a large wind farm off the Dutch coast and has been shortlisted for a similar US project in waters off North Carolina.
In other words, its commitment to “green gas” in Australia will be minuscule, and likely less significant than the many new players entering the Australian markets to build facilities that go by their real name: solar plants.
In the past decade, renewable energy growth has broken records year after year, and 2015 was a remarkable one for developing countries.
For the first time in history, according to the United Nations Environment Program, total investment in renewables exceeded that in developed economies, driven in part by national policies and the improving cost-competitiveness of renewable technologies. Investors, multinational energy players and renewable developers actively are pursuing new business opportunities in these electricity-thirsty markets.
Even so, the increase in renewable capacity, most often integrated into national and local grids, is very unlikely to electrify disconnected areas. Grid connection can carry high costs for building infrastructure and low investment attractiveness for private-sector utility players, and state budgets for electrification often are limited.
According to the International Energy Agency, 95 percent of the 1.2 billion people who lack access to energy today live in sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia and, due to very limited conventional grid connections in remote areas, they are predominantly in rural communities (around 80 percent).
But conventional grid connection is not the only option available. Projections from theInternational Energy Agency (PDF) show that of the 315 million people in rural areas who are expected to gain access to electricity by 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa, around 65 percent will be connected through unconventional means, such as off-grid and mini-grid systems. And as we wrote in a previous blog, the unconventional grid market is booming: The rollout of well-designed systems can provide electricity to a large number of people, as demonstrated in successful models in many developing countries.
In the era of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 7 — ensuring “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all” — it’s time to close the energy-access gap. Business is well positioned for leadership in this area through partnerships, community investment and stakeholder engagement.
Different off-grid solutions for different needs
To drive access to energy, companies, governments and civil society partners first need to define what off- or mini-grid solutions are available and most appropriate to address the needs of remote communities. Then they can move to how to use investments, partnerships and more to make access possible.
The quickest win is household-level solutions such as LED-based solar lanterns. These lanterns provide basic light for individual households and can be a cheaper and cleaner substitute for kerosene lanterns, which require families to buy fuel and can cause indoor pollution. Solar lanterns can help families save money, provide illumination at night for students to do their homework, and improve health and air quality, among other benefits.
However, solar lanterns clearly cannot respond to all the energy-related needs of families and communities. Standalone, off-grid applications, such as solar photovoltaic technologies backed up by battery-storage systems, can provide reliable supply to houses or facilities disconnected from the main grid. At the household level, this means that families will be able to power additional appliances, increasing access to communication and information, such as television, mobile phones and the internet.
Standalone, off-grid technologies also can power facilities offering essential services, such as healthcare. For instance, 1 billion people (PDF) in the world are served by health centers that completely lack electricity. Healthcare facilities need round-the-clock, reliable electricity to power lights, sterilization equipment and refrigerators for perishable medicines and vaccines.
The third option is mini-grids, or community-based network systems with small-scale, locally connected electricity production facilities, which can serve the village or community level. Mini-grids connect and power community services and buildings, households and local businesses.
According to REN21 (PDF), mini-grids are an attractive option: They can be quickly deployed, encourage private-sector growth and are efficient and flexible. When powered locally by renewable sources, they also can guarantee energy security: In disconnected rural areas, local power generation usually relies on diesel fuel, often imported over long distances and carrying high costs for the communities and the environment. Yet, as shown by a recent study, these costs can be reduced by hybridizing mini-grids with solar photovoltaic or other renewable power sources.
Access to energy partnerships for corporate social investment strategies
Once they have identified which solutions are best for communities, companies with operations in or near rural communities that lack access to grid connection should consider including programs on access to energy in their social investment strategies. In particular, extractives, energy players, renewable developers and multinational utilities that operate in such markets could invest in or finance systems such as standalone or mini-grid installations.
Local stakeholder engagement is an essential element to identify the right scale and solution for community energy needs. In particular, renewables developers and utilities have the opportunity to provide tangible demonstrations of the local benefits that they can bring — and at the same time build good neighborly relations.
Access-to-energy programs can be designed and implemented through a range of models, from direct investments and project implementation, to co-ownership with local partners and incubation support. By building partnerships among donors or for-profit investors that have funding, community-based organizations or nonprofits that have experience or networks to reach and engage communities and organizations or businesses with technical expertise, companies can ensure scalable, successful solutions to help close the energy gap.
Opportunities also exist, particularly for utilities and energy players that have in-house expertise, to provide capacity-building trainings on how to run and maintain appliances once they have been installed. This would allow effective knowledge transfer and also create job opportunities and enhance local skills.
A multitude of stakeholders across different geographies, sectors and industries are already contributing to Goal 7 and are pioneering innovative models built or financed in partnership with companies such as Total, Engie, Enel, EDP and other funders such as national development banks. Model partnerships include those with Barefoot College (active in India and in 76 other countries with its solar programs), Powerhive in Kenya, Devergy in Tanzania and Egg Energy in East Africa. These initiatives, however, need more business leadership to reach scalable impacts.
The rallying cry of Goal 7 is mobilizing efforts to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. It is now time for companies to fully connect to this movement.
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The key question for South Africa is how will it be done, and how we ensure it that it does not hurt the economy, nor the poor. In any case, given the increase in electricity prices over the last few years, the tax liability of companies that have adjusted to these price hikes will be better off than companies that are stuck with old technologies or business models that make them reliant on fossil fuels or methods of production that lead to high emissions of carbon dioxide.
The carbon tax ought to help achieve three things: lower carbon intensity from improved energy efficiency or through switching to alternative energy; it ought to stimulate new growth, new technologies and enterprise; and it should encourage development of new product lines which in turn would stimulate new investments and jobs. This is why a carbon tax, unlike alarmist claims, is not a zero-sum game.
With more than 40 countries, 20 subnational jurisdictions and over 200 global companies imposing carbon pricing in some form, the writing is on the wall: a global carbon price is on the horizon. Airline emissions will be priced soon, and it is likely that shipping will be included in the near future. Basically, if South Africa does not impose carbon pricing, it will be imposed upon it. It is true that the current carbon tax proposal is not perfect, but it is nevertheless immensely better to have a flawed, but fixable, instrument in place than to have nothing at all.
Increased electricity prices already make a strong case for business and industry to invest in energy efficiency. The proposed tax price of R120 and the extent of rebates mean that the carbon tax will not change this much, with no increase in electricity price and a 1% to 4% increase in the price of fuel. It nevertheless makes sense that an initial, low-cost tax be piloted in order to iron out the monitoring and reporting structures to ensure its enforceability, while accustoming tax-liable entities to the process.
It is critical for government to adhere to the proposal to increase the carbon tax over the first phase, and when the rebates are reduced during the second phase, alternative options such as on-site renewable electricity generation and more significant efficiency investments become financially attractive. Without this increase, the carbon tax will fail to leverage any real change.
It is also important to bear in mind that those industries and businesses that act early will have an advantage, both competitively through improved efficiencies and through reduced tax liability. In effect, a carbon tax can improve business viability, by requiring investments in energy efficiency that would otherwise be uneconomic for a business.
In the transition phase the carbon tax should be used as a tool to prod change, and revenues generated from the tax should be used to assist struggling sectors and those most likely to be affected from the transfer of costs to consumers (in the first phase the effects will be negligible). In the short term there should be revenue neutrality and in the long term government will benefit its tax base through improved use of energy, new investments due to productivity, and new technology.
Accompanying the draft carbon tax bill are the just-released draft carbon offset regulations, which are an important component of the national mitigation measures. They indicate that the National Treasury has been listening to inputs from the public, and has put serious thought into the risks of carbon offsetting. At present, any tax-liable entity will be allowed to avoid some of their carbon tax liability by purchasing offsets.
The basic concept underlying carbon offsets is that a tonne of greenhouse gas is effectively the same wherever in the world it is emitted. Therefore, if the implementer of some regulated activity that emits a greenhouse gas can pay to have an equivalent amount measurably removed (or “sequestered”) from the atmosphere elsewhere, on balance he will have met his obligation.
Of course, this requires that the activity that sequesters the greenhouse gas is not itself subject to regulation, and that this removal would not have occurred anyway (termed “additionality”). Government needs to put strong requirements in place to ensure this additionality, and to regularly check that the assumptions are still valid for projects.
Offsets need careful consideration if they are not to be abused and used as false measures of progress. Offsets should reduce the overall emissions profile of the economy, not maintain the status quo or result in an increase (which is termed “leakage” in the technical jargon of the field). Offsets should not be a free pass for polluters and a financial windfall for market speculators.
There is still a need for some changes to the proposed carbon offsets structure – principally limiting it to sectors that have no alternative but to offset – but it is a necessary component of the national mix of measures required to facilitate a transition to a low carbon economy. The main risk is associated with the complexity of implementation.
Carbon offsets are a critical part of what is called the mitigation hierarchy. It is important first to both avoid emissions wherever possible through investment in renewable energy and ceasing activities that provide little benefit to society, and to reduce emissions across low energy technologies, public transport, solar water heating, and any number of means of improving energy efficiency.
However, certain essential activities such as the manufacture of steel have no alternative to greenhouse gas emissions. As long as society depends on these activities, greenhouse gas emissions are a given; offsets are the only means of reducing total emissions from these sectors. For this reason, offset allowances should be limited only to essential activities that provide the most benefit to the economy and the poor.
The appetite for offsets from these activities should suffice to catalyse improved mitigation in sectors not currently liable for a carbon tax. Not using offsets for other sectors will prevent offsets from undermining the incentive provided by a carbon tax to improve the efficiencies and reduce intensity of processes in these sectors.
Moreover, not all offsets are created equal. While the Treasury white list of approved activities excludes many of the more egregious forms of offset generation, some have more risk associated with them than others. Curtailing methane emissions from waste or dairy manure lagoons is straightforward, readily measured, and largely uneconomic at present, and therefore is a good, low-cost option that makes sense to implement.
Fuel switch options are less simple; switching between different fossil fuel types should not be encouraged as South Africa transitions towards a low carbon economy, and the economic case for renewables makes these viable even without carbon credit finance. However, for effective fuel switching to occur, reforms in the energy sector are necessary.
A more effective means of financing the switch to renewables would be the finalisation of a feed-in tariff to allow generation of electricity by homes, businesses and larger installations.
This should be decentralised to local government.
The national offsets registry should be complemented by recording all offsets generated within the country, voluntary or regulated. If this is not done, a credit could be sold to a buyer outside the country, who will record the reduction against his regulation. It will also be captured in the national Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which is part of South Africa’s regular reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is called “double counting”, where a single emission is claimed by two different people, and is one of the big risks of offsets. By ensuring that the national registry tracks where such credits are sold, it will enable South Africa to avoid double counting.
Moreover, government must ensure that the systems in place for application of the tax and offsets are up to the task. Given that many of the proposed offsets have a restricted credit period, it will be necessary for offset purchasers to replace credits once they expire: this means that seven to 20 years after a credit is purchased, the entity will have to buy new credits.
This is considerable longer than the usual period for which tax records are retained; government must ensure that this is adequately enforced or the validity of the offsets will be undermined.
Overall, it is encouraging to see that the government of South Africa is pushing forward with internal measures to make good on its international commitments and obligations to its own citizens to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Chief Operating Officer, Monika Weber-Fahr, said that to achieve 100% access to water and electricity, independent sectors need to work together. Weber-Fahr said this on Wednesday during an energy-focused keynote in Cape Town.
Efficient use of water and energy
It has been recorded that around 60-70% of water that enters a utility pipeline network, cannot be accounted for, confirming the need for a transformative approach around how both water and energy is utilised.
According to Weber-Fahr, the ability to strike a balance between the responsibility of power generation while remaining environmentally conscious in Africa is a false trade-off.
“If it was more difficult or more costly it would take much longer to feed renewables into your energy mix – this would be a trade-off – but the fact is it’s not. It’s as cheap or cheaper, it is much more available, particularly to the underserved population, and it is as easy and faster,” Weber-Fahr told Metering and Smart Energy International during an interview.
In an earlier report, ESI Africa reported that Denmark has been investing in sustainable technology in East Africa, with efforts to boost access to clean, affordable drinking water.
Denmark-based energy water solutions firm Grundfos has installed over 40 automated water kiosks in informal settlements in Kenya, which require only 20% of the energy utilised by normal water pumps.
According to the Danish firm, Nairobi’s City Water and Sewerage Company is currently installing these dispensers in its water supply networks.
Philip Gichuki, managing director of the Nairobi City Water & Sewerage Company was quoted saying: “By automating water kiosks in informal settlements, we are able to keep the prices low and secure payment for water services provided to consumers.”
Gichuki added: “This will help us address commercial losses due to illegal water use.”
South Africa embraces efficiency
With the knowledge of how critical it is to adopt an energy efficient approach to how business is conducted, both within the private and public sectors, South African Energy Minister, Tina Joemat-Pettersson recently launched the South African National Energy Efficiency Campaign.
The department of energy launched a new energy efficiency label that will become mandatory for household appliances.
Joemat Pettersson said it was an “uncomfortable truth that South Africa is among the least energy efficient countries in the world. When there is loadshedding, South Africans look for more energy, rather than saving energy.”
The energy efficiency labelling programme, which has been developed over the past four years, is based on European standards and will initially apply to a basket of 12 appliances.
Tom Blees, president of the Science Council for Global Initiatives, offers his opinion on the topic of nuclear presence in South Africa
South Africa’s current debate over deploying nuclear power is taking place at a time when similar discussions are going on in many countries around the world. Accessibility to global communication is leading people around the world to understand that social justice demands the opportunity for everyone to have a standard of living comparable to what the so-called developed countries enjoy.
The correlation between standard of living and energy usage is virtually synonymous, since what is considered a measure of a comfortable life necessarily includes refrigeration, lighting, transportation, heating and air conditioning, electronics for both entertainment and business, and other appurtenances that consume energy.
The effort to raise global living standards, plus the expectation of a few billion more people on the planet by mid-century, means that energy demands can be expected to at least double, though it is certainly realistic to expect that we may even see a three-fold demand or more within the next fifty years.
Carbon conscious resources
With climate change being widely recognised as one of the most pressing challenges of our time, the search is on for environmentally-benign yet dependable energy sources that can meet this inevitable energy demand. Unfortunately, the widespread belief that wind, solar, and other less-developed so-called renewables can provide for our energy needs, is considered by most energy specialists as wishful thinking at best.
Besides the obvious unreliability of these intermittent energy sources, the basic issue is one of energy density. It’s easy to say that enough sunlight falls on the earth every day, or enough wind blows, to provide many times the energy needs of humanity. It is altogether a different issue to harvest that energy.
We can easily see the problem in Germany, the country that has devoted vast sums of money to wind and solar deployment. There are entire weeks at a time when solar produces virtually nothing in Germany. During those times, even if Germany had a hundred times as many solar panels as they do now, there would still not be enough to meet their electricity demand.
This demonstrable flaw in renewables thus has to be met with so-called ‘back-up power’, a disingenuous misnomer if ever there was one, for ‘back-up’ power systems usually provide about 70-80% of the electricity, even in countries that have the biggest and most expensive renewable programmes.
Back-up power alternatives
Because there are times when neither wind nor solar provide more than trivial amounts of power, back-up power systems must be in place to provide sufficient power to meet peak demand, which is often two to three times the average demand.
The uncomfortable question is this: what will be used to provide that power when renewables fail?
Presently, that power is provided primarily by gas and coal, and less frequently by hydroelectric or nuclear power. But if we are to eliminate carbon emissions, gas and coal have to be eliminated, leaving the other two options.
Hydroelectric power, however, will always be limited by both geography and politics.
Carbon emissions, cause for concern
Carbon sequestration is often touted as being the panacea that could allow gas and coal to provide back-up power, but this is illusory at best. In the case of coal, the strip mining of coal exposes vast amounts of shale and mudstone to the atmosphere, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases directly from the mines into the atmosphere.
Even if the coal that was mined had 100% of its CO2 sequestered, in many cases the amount of GHGs escaping from the mine itself would exceed the amount sequestered. Even ignoring the obvious environmental issues with strip mining coal and its other detrimental effects (such as vast ash heaps), this direct GHG effect of mining is a deal-breaker for coal.
Recognition of at least some of these shortcomings of coal has led to a Faustian bargain between many environmental groups and the gas industry. Yet even in the best of conditions, gas produces a vast amount of CO2 when it’s burned under even the best conditions.
As with coal, large-scale sequestration has yet to be proven to be economical or even feasible for its widespread use.
Then there is the issue of leakage from the drilling, transport, and end-use of gas. For example, the thousands of kilometers of pipelines that transport gas from Siberian gas fields to customers in western Europe, end up losing about 40-45% of the gas by the time it reaches the customer. Some of that is gas that is burned to power the pumping stations along the pipelines, but much of it is direct methane leakage into the atmosphere. Since methane is 20-30 times as potent as CO2 when it comes to its greenhouse effect, that is certainly no small matter.
So if we’re to be serious about climate change, no matter how much we might wish for a planet powered by renewables, we have little choice but to embrace nuclear power to provide so-called back-up power. Fortunately, the development of new and ultra-safe nuclear power plant designs hasn’t stopped in the last few decades while nuclear construction was moribund.
There are several innovative designs that are very near to demonstration that are walk-away safe. Some are also designed for mass production that will assure both excellent quality control and superior economics, as well as rapid deployment.
These are the realities of energy today, as uncomfortable as they may seem to those who hold ideological positions on energy matters. Recognition of these realities is behind the nuclear advocacy of many committed environmentalists, many of whom have previously been decidedly anti-nuclear in the past. This trend is masterfully presented in the movie Pandora’s Promise, which will be screened in several events around South Africa in May.
It is my honor to have been invited to participate in the African Utility Week conference in Capetown, May 17-19, as well as other events around South Africa. These presentations will include up-to-date information on cutting-edge nuclear technologies, a topic of particular interest as South Africa contemplates the deployment of nuclear power to provide reliable and economical energy for future development. We can expect lively discussions about all aspects of nuclear power, including solutions to nuclear waste, safety, non-proliferation, and intriguing technologies like nuclear batteries (for mini-grids in isolated areas) and ship-mounted full-scale power plants. I look forward to engaging with concerned citizens in South Africa and hope you’ll make plans to participate in these discussions.
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Pretoria — The R5 billion Bokpoort concentrated solar plant (CSP) has officially been launched in Groblershoop, Northern Cape.
Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies welcomed the major investment by ACWA Power, a Saudi Arabian company.
“[The] project instils confidence in government’s long term infrastructure roll out, providing energy access, contributing to economic, community and sustainable development,” he said at the launch of the plant on Monday.
Minister Davies was joined at the launch by Saudi Arabian Trade and Commerce Minister, Dr Tawfiq Al Rabiah, who is also in South Africa for the 7th session of the South Africa-Saudi Arabia Joint Economic Commission (JEC).
The 50 MW Bokpoort plant forms part of South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Program (REIPPP).
“This project marks a key milestone in South Africa’s electricity supply security and CO2 reduction. With its record 9.3 hours thermal energy storage capacity, the Bokpoort CSP project will provide electricity to approximately 21 000 households during the day as well as night time and save approximately 230 000 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions during every year of operation,” said Minister Davies.
Within five years, the REIPPP has attracted R194 billion of investment and is fast becoming a global model and blue print for other countries, providing policy certainty and transparency.
The Minister said the project has a major socio-economic development impact for the Northern Cape and South Africa. Over R2.4 billion was spent on local content, with 40% of the Bokpoort plant being sourced and manufactured locally. This includes the manufacturing and assembly of solar field collector steel structures and the supply of piping and cables.
During construction peak time, more than 1 200 people worked on site, while 70 permanent jobs have been created to operate and maintain the plant. The plant was constructed over 30 months.
“The operation of the plant will provide electricity to the Eskom grid to power communities and industry by ensuring a reliable source of renewable energy and increasing power supply.”
The Minister thanked the chairperson of ACWA Power, Mohamed Abunayyan, for his confidence to invest in South Africa.
ACWA Power aims to expand its Southern African portfolio to 5 000 MW by 2025. The group has identified South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Botswana as key growth markets in the region.
“To our visitors from Saudi Arabia, South Africa is indeed open for business. Investors enjoy robust protection in South Africa, comparable to the highest international standard,” said Minister Davies.
Because of the interconnectedness of energy, food, and water systems, a vulnerability in one can hold serious implications for the others.
Recently, the Sustainability Institute and School of Public Leadership in Stellenbosch, South Africa published a report, “Mitigating Risks and Vulnerabilities in the Energy-Food-Water Nexus in Developing Countries.” The report was compiled for the United Kingdom Department of International Development, and it outlines the dynamic interactions between energy, food, and water systems to identify vulnerabilities and propose policy solutions. The linkages described in the report include energy and water inputs in the food system; crops and water which are used to produce energy in the form of biofuels, fossil fuels, and hydroelectricity; and energy and agricultural production which adversely impact water quality.
According to the authors, “this escalating tension between increasing demand and limits on resources and environmental sinks threatens to create energy and food price shocks that ripple across integrated global markets and result in local shortages of key resources. This, in turn, threatens to undermine energy, food, and water security, and thereby reduce human welfare and possibly lead to social tensions and geopolitical conflict.” If these systems are addressed independently of one another, rather than holistically, it could result in policies and measures which are ineffective or even harmful to other parts of the nexus.
While resource availability and environmental space might not be an immediate obstacle to global economic growth, resource constraints and climate change have been identified as crucial challenges in the twenty-first century which have the potential to impact political security and stability. According to the World Bank, some 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity while 1.2 billion people have unreliable access and over 780 million people lack reliable access to clean and safe water. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at least 800 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment. Demand for these resources is projected to increase significantly in the next half century, driven by increased population, global economy expansion, rising living standards, and a continuing process of urbanization. Most of the increased demand is expected to happen in developing countries, and the lack of available resources will increasingly limit the ability to meet demand.
This study is composed of a literature review of documents on the energy-food-water nexus, a qualitative analysis of vulnerability indicators, and a policy analysis to produce recommendations for mitigating those vulnerabilities. In addition to global analysis, specific case studies in Malawi, South Africa, and Cuba were conducted to understand the systems of different types of regimes. Malawi is a primarily agrarian system which depends on low productivity, rain-fed agriculture, and biomass energy and has low access to electricity, improved water sources, and adequate nutrition. South Africa is heavily dependent on fossil fuels to power high energy industry and agriculture, and complex water supply infrastructures which are threatened by fossil-fuel-intensive energy and food systems. Cuba incorporates extensive agroecological farming and a growing use of renewables, but it is weak regarding reliance on imported grains and fuels.
The identified risks and vulnerabilities faced by developing countries include extreme events such as droughts or floods, oil price shocks, food price shocks, geopolitical tensions, and financial speculation in commodity markets. The result of food, energy, and water insecurity is the potential for heightened social instability in countries and throughout regions. Concerning policy strategies moving forward, it was noted that any mitigation strategy has to begin with the creation of well-functioning institutions, efficient government systems, and integrated policy frameworks to design and implement effective policies. In rural areas, the critical issue is to optimize land use to provide necessary services, and in urban areas, the emphasis should be on creating resource efficient low carbon cities. For primarily agrarian regimes, the recommendation is to expand access to water, food, and energy while limiting the adverse environmental impacts, and in industrial countries, the greatest challenges are to minimize the vulnerability to international energy prices, reduce resource and energy intensity, and reduce the negative impacts of fossil fuels.
South Africa’s George Airport has become the first in the country to be partly powered by solar energy as part of plans to expand investments in renewables, the government has announced.
Environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa minister said the launch of the “first solar-powered airport on the African continent” would lead to similar projects at other airports in the country.
George Airport, which lies halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s ‘Garden Route’, aims to generate around 40% of its electricity needs from solar power during the first phase of the project, Molewa said.
According to Molewa, 750 kilowatts of electricity will be generated from the 200 square metre solar plant during the first phase of the project, which she said would be sufficient to meet the daily needs of the airport which serves more than 600,000 passengers annually.
“Investment such as at George Airport must give momentum to other private and public sector entities to reconfigure and retrofit their existing infrastructure in support of more sustainable energy consumption patterns,” Molewa said.
Airport manager Brenda Vorster told iafrica.com: “It’s a stepping stone. At night we go on to the grid, but during the day we are on green.”
Any surplus electricity generated by the airport’s solar plant “will likely be sold” to South Africa’s national utility Eskom, according to the region’s Eden District Municipality.
Work on the solar project began last March and took six months to build at a reported cost of 16 million rand (ZAR) ($1m). The chairman of the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) Skhumbuzo Macozoma said ACSA planned to extend renewable power generation to all of its airports under its 2025-2030 blueprint towards achieving carbon neutrality in energy consumption.
Macozoma said: “Harnessing solar power is a viable cleaner energy source which contributes towards diversifying the energy mix. This plant will ensure that the airport is self-sustaining in terms of its power needs and will eventually extend to the broader community within the George municipality.”
South Africa’s finance minister Pravin Gordhan said in his 2016 budget, presented to parliament last month, that the government proposed investing a total of 870 billion rand (ZAR) ($55bn) in a public sector infrastructure programme over the next three years covering sectors including energy, transport, health and education.
Pravin said the government planned to “build on the success” of projects under its existing renewable energy investment scheme and would extend itsindependent power producer procurement programme “to include coal and gas power projects”.
Four large scale solar plants went online in South Africa in the first-half of 2014. A study published in 2015 by the South African government-owned Council for Scientific and Industrial Research said renewable energy from South Africa’s first wind and solar plants generated a “net financial benefit” of around $702,000 for the country in 2014.
Last June, energy minister Tina Joemat-Petterson said 13 preferred bidders had been selected under the national renewable energy programme to work on projects “tipped to supply an additional 1,084 megawatts of electricity to the national grid”.