Importance of Renewable Energy in South Africa

Traditional forms of energy did their job, but their time is up- not only because traditional forms produce energy through the burning of fossil fuels (which releases tonnes of greenhouse gasses), but also because they are not sustainable and are running out. This leaves us with only one option – renewable energy. Using sustainable energy methods like solar power will, inevitably, change the face of the planet in more ways than one.

Why Renewable Energy is Important

The use of fossil fuels as the main source of energy in the world has not only led to an increase in natural disasters such as the floods in Florida, Mozambique and Hawaii, the wildfires in Australia and the Amazon, as well as the deadly heatwaves throughout Europe, but also a recording of an exponential rise in the global pollution rates.

In South Africa, growth in demand is not the only reason for renewable energy supply options. The electricity supply in South Africa is mainly coal-based and although it may last for a century, the large power plants will need to be replaced. Coal also has many uses and this natural resource should be conserved for future use. Perhaps the most well-known reason for why transition to renewable energy is important, is because coal and other fossil fuels produce Carbon dioxide when burned to produce energy – it is widely accepted (or perhaps not wide enough) that human generated carbon dioxide represents a serious environmental threat to the world as a whole. The climate crisis is strongly related to energy supply options, with coal and oil products being major contributors to urban and rural air pollution and acid rain.

Renewable energy provides reliable and sustainable power supplies and fuel diversification, which in turn enhances energy security, lowers the risk of fuel spills, and reduces the need for imported fuels – it conserves that nation’s natural resources. Renewable energy saves lives. Not just the life of the planet and the entire eco system, but also the lives of many people. Worldwide, every year, thousands of people die due to cardiac and respiratory disease that can be directly related to the greenhouse gas emissions resulting in air pollution.

Benefits of Renewable Energy

Besides the obvious, other advantages of renewable energy include:

  • Less reliance on concentrated sources of energy (and political power)
  • Renewable energy produces zero greenhouse gas emissions unlike fossil fuels do.
  • It reduces many types of air pollution.
  • It diversifies our energy supply and reduces our dependence on imported fuels.
  • It creates economic development and jobs.
  • There is an unlimited supply of sunlight.
  • The maintenance requirements are lower than with traditional energy technology.
  • It saves a lot of money in the long run.



The Role of Solar Power in South Africa

Developing countries such as ours, rely heavily on fossil fuels. This has resulted in our country being ranked as the 14th highest producer of carbon emissions in the world. Unfortunately this reliance on fossil fuels has also resulted in a significant increase in the amount of fine particulate matter in the air, this leads to chronic exposure of our people breathing in this fine particulate matter which in turn leads to thousands of severe respiratory related illnesses and deaths every year. Sadly, renewable energy generation in South Africa currently only contributes to 1.4% of our total our power output.

Even though South Africa has fast become the leader for renewable energy production in Africa, there are still several renewable sources which can greatly contribute to South African energy supplies:

  1. Hydropower. Our combined Hydropower stations produce around 3147 GWh, (1.4%) in an average year. The main problem with this sector is that it has been about 90% developed so there isn’t much more to be done.
  2. Biomass. South Africa has tremendous potential in the biomass field, as we produce about 18million tonnes of forestry and agricultural residue every year. South Africa has the potential to substitute the mass of our national liquid fuel supply using biomass fuels, however it is not being used to any significant level as of yet.
  3. Biogas. There is the potential in South Africa to generate 2500 MW of power from our annual waste alone.
  4. Wind Energy. We have excellent wind resources country wide, and the cost of wind power is already competing with coal power. South Africa has built various wind farms, mostly around the Eastern Cape Region.
  5. Solar Energy. The average Solar Radiation in South Africa a day is around 220 W/m2, compared to Europe which has only a 100W/m2. This makes our solar capabilities one of the highest capabilities in the world.
  6. Solar Home Systems. Home solar systems have grown in popularity in South Africa since the early 2000’s. The lowered cost of products as well as unreliable electricity provision has largely contributed to this.
  7. Concentrated Solar Power. These are power plants that combine thermal energy storage systems, leading to a concentration of available solar energy. These plants are particularly useful for generating energy in sub-par weather conditions (such as cloudy days) and/or for those hours when there is no sunlight available.

Greater use of renewable energy would also reduce South Africa’s economic vulnerability to the ever-changing (and escalating) costs of imported fuels. When it comes to our renewable sources, we have a lot of potential development ahead of us. International and local communities are trying to find ways to shift economies towards greater reliance on renewable energy and it is said that Solar Power is set to play a massive role in our country’s transition to renewable energy.( Solar Power provides a myriad of benefits, some of which includes (but is no way limited to) the following:

  • Saving money on your electricity bill and saving the environment;
  • Improving health and future;
  • Saving our depleting natural resources;
  • Creating jobs and helping the South African Economy;
  • Better energy security;
  • Stability in the price of our energy;
  • Lower maintenance requirements…. And the list goes on.

Whilst the current pandemic of COVID-19 is by far the most urgent threat facing us today, we cannot forget that climate change is by far the biggest threat facing humanity over the long-term.

Nature is speaking. Why aren’t we listening?






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