Max du Preez

Bring on the Green Energy Revolution

2015-09-01 07:24

Max du Preez

Nkandla mansions, Gupta planes and Prasa locomotives are child’s play. South Africans should save their energy for a national campaign to stop the government from dumping the country in a deep dark hole of debt for generations with its reckless nuclear power plans.

There is little doubt that the chances are very good that the planned nine nuclear power plants would lead to corruption on an unprecedented scale, to long delays and completely unaffordable electricity prices.

It is absolute lunacy for a country such as South Africa to even consider such a project of a trillion rand. And that while the rest of the world is fast moving the other way, to renewable energy.

An ambitious Green Energy Revolution could be just the thing to turn South Africa’s dwindling fortunes around.

It takes a fraction of the time to build a renewable energy capacity compared to coal or nuclear power stations.

The Medupi and Kusile power stations will produce almost 10 000 MW power when they reach full production in five or six years. Even if our economy grows much faster than it is now, we would have enough electricity for at least a decade.

This timeframe provides South Africa with a wonderful opportunity to devise new plans to make sure that we never again have a shortage of electricity - affordable, safe plans that would create many work opportunities, stimulate the local economy, minimise our carbon footprint and even increase our exports.

Stellenbosch University’s Solar Thermal Energy Research Group revealed a clever new way to employ solar energy last week: Helio100, a small, mobile and very affordable heliostat plant that can generate 100kW of power.

We should not allow that what happened to other local innovations in this field to happen to Helio100: that it is snatched by foreign companies and we have to buy it back in a few years at 10 times the original cost.

The government should now be encouraged to think bravely and innovatively and to forget about the grandiose plans they love so much.

Helio100 can supply about 50 households with their complete energy demand and can be built almost entirely with local technology, skills and materials. A bigger version is in the pipeline.

The state should help establish companies countrywide to manufacture these plants and then require new housing developments to use that rather than connect to the Eskom grid.

Such simple, cheap and low technology plants would surely be ideal for export, especially to the rest of Africa.

Don’t let the naysayers supporting the fossil fuel and nuclear orthodoxies mislead you with their stories that renewable energy is very expensive and unreliable.

The most successful countries and economies like Britain, Germany and the United States are changing to renewable energy very aggressively.

The International Energy Agency recently calculated that solar power would be the biggest single source of energy by 2050. Since 2013 more energy capacity has been added from renewable sources than from coal, gas and oil combined.

Germany already has 23 000 wind turbines in service and wants to supply half its demand for electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

China’s wind farms supply more electricity than America’s nuclear power stations.

Bangladesh adds 80 000 solar panels on homes every month.

Georgetown in Texas is about to switch to 100% renewable energy.

Residential solar panels already generate more than 1 GW of electricity, compared to South Africa’s 10 MW. Etcetera.

South Africa has many, many more sunshine days per year than any of these countries.

There is no reason why South Africa should import a single solar panel, battery or converter. We should be exporting these, especially to the rest of Africa, South America and Asia. The same goes for wind turbines and generators.

Researchers believe that South Africa could, if it is ambitious and dedicated enough, have a situation in two decades where all residences, hotels, education institutions and office buildings rely only on renewable energy, leaving the output of existing power stations to mines, industries and rail transport.

What is more, all this can be achieved with about a quarter of the money that we would need to build nine nuclear power stations.

Even a huge solar plant or wind farm takes only a few months to build, compared to many years in the case of a nuclear power plant.

It would also mean that electricity prices can remain relatively low. The electricity generated by the planes nuclear stations would cost about twelve times more than the electricity supplied by Medupi. Imagine multiplying your monthly electricity bill by 12.

Bring on the Green Energy Revolution.     

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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