The world's set for failure on energy goals as millions of people still struggle without electricity

This image shows Tokyo as well lit, but many people do not have access to universal electricity supply as stated in the Millennium Development Goals. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)
This image shows Tokyo as well lit, but many people do not have access to universal electricity supply as stated in the Millennium Development Goals. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The world is not on track to meet global energy targets set as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, leaving many vulnerable to the effects of pollution.

According to the Global Tracking Framework from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), while there have been gains in access to clean energy, more than 13% of the world's population - or one billion people - still live without electricity.

"As of 2015, the world obtained 17.5% of its total final energy consumption from renewable sources, of which 9.6% represents modern forms of renewable energy such as geothermal, hydropower, solar and wind. The remainder is traditional uses of biomass (such as fuelwood and charcoal)," reads a key finding in the report.

READ: SA falling behind on renewable energy

Despite the growth in renewables, the agency found that current policies would see renewable energy generation make up only 21% of total energy generation by 2030.

Biggest challenges

Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa face the biggest challenges in terms of energy. Almost 87% of the rural poor do not have access to electricity.

"There is an urgent need for action on all technologies, especially on renewables and energy efficiency, which are key for delivering on three critical goals - energy access, climate mitigation and lower air pollution," said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency.

READ: Rural North West school gets green electricity

In SA, the National Development Plan calls for the procurement of "at least 20 000MW (megawatts) of renewable electricity by 2030" and the decommissioning 11 000MW of ageing coal-fired power stations.

Currently, Eskom's Klipheuwel Wind Farm has a capacity of 3MW, while the Sere Wind Farm in Vredendal in the Western Cape has a capacity of 100MW, compared to the 34 952MW produced by 13 coal-fired power plants.

Critics of renewable energy have criticised the transient nature of the energy supply, especially of wind and solar installations that would need expensive storage capacity to deliver uninterruptable power supply.

"South Africa has not yet abandoned the large grid mentality, because we are still investing in mega coal-fired power stations like Kusile, and the issue of 'baseload' is endlessly used as an argument for further investments in coal and nuclear," Nhlanhla Sibisi, Greenpeace Africa's Climate and Energy campaigner told News24.

"In reality, we need a flexible load that can be produced near to where it is required, and is flexible enough to match the changing patterns of demand. Renewable energy is clearly a much better option than coal or nuclear, but the South African government has not yet fully embraced renewable energy," Sibisi added.

'Maintaining that momentum'

Energy Minister Jeff Radebe recently signed a R56bn contract with 27 independent power producers, but the National Union of Mineworkers has threatened to end its support for the ANC over the deal, arguing that it would cost 40 000 jobs in the coal sector.

Greenpeace lauded the signing of the contracts and encouraged the government to scale up renewable energy.

"Greenpeace Africa would now like to see the country maintaining that momentum and allowing the various forms of renewable energy to flourish in a way that benefits all South Africans, and not only the private sector," said Sibisi.

However, National Energy Regulator of South Africa's draft plan on the Registration of Small-Scale Embedded Generation may negatively impact on development of these small grids as they would need to be registered under the draft plan, published on April 26.

"Once the application has been approved, the distributor will be required to provide the energy regulator with information of such connections on a quarterly basis on the required template," reads the document which is also applicable to domestic renewable energy installations.

SA has vast untapped potential for renewable energy with the country's abundant sunshine and long coastline.

The World Wide Fund for Nature's Renewable Energy: Facts and Figures 2017 report shows that SA's wind energy potential alone is 6 700GW (gigawatts) if wind farms had to be installed across the country, except for in exclusion zones such as national parks and settled areas.

100GW of solar power capacity

Irena data showed that the deficit of electricity access in Sub-Saharan Africa has decreased for the first time as millions now have electricity through solar installations or mini-grids.

In some regions, renewables as a share of energy generation made up 22.8% in 2015 and the agency singled out Brazil and the UK for substantial growth in the renewable energy sector.

Renewable energy sector player Greenbyte recently announced that China was the first country to pass 100GW in installed solar power capacity.

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