World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Living Unit head Saliem Fakir said on Friday that the debate was no longer around whether renewable energy would form part of South Africa’s energy mix, but rather what would happen after the initial target of 3 725 MW was achieved.
Government is aiming to procure 3 725 MW of renewable-energy capacity from the private sector, which would be delivered between 2014 and 2016.
“Although we may celebrate the 3 725 MW, we are still facing the challenge of where to go beyond that to ensure long-term visibility for wind and other renewables,” Fakir said at a Johannesburg business breakfast in celebration of South Africa’s first year o participation in Global Wind Day.
He added that renewable energy played an important role in converging energy security, growth and development of the local economy, and climate change obligations, which were key drivers of a green economy.
“The question is how the renewables sector could achieve this convergence while ensuring future electricity prices remain affordable,” Fakir pointed out.
Further, he said the local renewables sector had to broaden its vision beyond South Africa to the rest of the continent.
“There is a huge debate in Africa around providing additional power, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where supply is not meeting demand. The renewables sector must consider its role in alleviating this deficit,” Fakir urged.
Benefits such as technology innovation and entrepreneurship brought on by the diversification of South Africa’s economy as a result of new investment in renewable energy, also had to be kept in mind.
Meanwhile, reducing the long-term capital costs of renewable energy remained a challenge.
“We must push for scale to bring down costs and drive localisation, which will be limited if we stick to the 3 725 MW. We have to look beyond this target to open deeper economic benefits,” Fakir said.
South African Wind Energy Association chairperson Jasandra Nyker said skills development and awareness was crucial for the sustainable future of the wind industry in Africa.
“Education programmes must be implemented in schools that create awareness and interest in technologies that promote a low-carbon future,” she noted.
Further, to ensure the prevalence of wind energy in the country, Nyker suggested that tariff regimes needed to be broadened to include small- and large-scale wind projects.
“We need to also look at reducing the extent of regulations required to construct small wind turbines,” she said.
Further, alternative ways of funding and investment in wind solutions would have to be discussed.
“Although they would initially subsidise renewable projects, it will not always be the government’s responsibility to continue supporting these programmes. There will be the need for private funding programmes and renewable projects will have to be made attractive from an investment perspective,” Nyker explained.
While coal and hydrocarbon energy generation would continue to dominate, the International Energy Association has found that renewable energy is currently growing at a faster pace than expected five years ago.
Nyker said while some African countries would only use wind power as an alternative to current forms of coal-derived electricity, there were other parts of the continent where wind applications could serve as the main solution to providing access to electricity.
“Not all countries require baseload power to the same extent as South Africa; as a result wind and other renewables energy can become a bigger slice of their energy mix,” she enthused.