Winds of change: The renewable energy programme that may not be renewed
Although South Africa has been playing catch-up to the rest of the ‘first-world’ with regard to its renewable energy endeavours, it seems as if the country may have just caught up. With a renewable energy programme in place that focuses largely on harnessing and converting wind to electrical power being “lauded as one of the most successful internationally”, South Africa has been making waves both at home and overseas. The renewable energy programme has attracted billions of Rands worth of foreign investment since its inception. Wind farms have become an increasingly popular alternative source of electrical energy due to a global rise in energy prices. Their appeal is fundamentally founded on the fact that they are viewed as being a clean way of producing energy in comparison to coal and nuclear-based methods. Wind farms are formed when wind turbines are strategically placed en-masse on location for the purpose of generating large quantities of electrical power. South Africa’s wind farms have been propagated in both the Eastern and Western Cape, with 15 farms in total in the Eastern Cape and 10 in the Western Cape. The Northern Cape, in turn, is home to the Bokpoort concentrated solar plant (CSP) which was launched in Groblershoop, in March last year.
Proposed new plants are being built in the ‘most desperately neglected parts of the country’ in order to promote mass job creation, particularly in rural areas. South Africa’s history of alternative energy sourcing and supply is a relatively contemporary one. A preliminary investment in renewable energy was initiated in 2010 through the Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme. Subsequently, three rounds have been commissioned and delivered. According to John Webb for Carte Blanche investigative journalism, with “each [new] round [delivered], the price of electricity dropped 68%. Renewables are now cheaper than new coal and nuclear.” Mark Pickering, the Managing Director of the Jeffrey’s Bay Wind Farm – the first of its kind in South Africa, has predicted that renewable energy will be the “fourth industrial revolution”, and one that the country cannot escape.
However, the fourth phase has come to a grinding halt, as without Eskom’s signature on the Power Purchase Agreement, construction cannot proceed, and the implications of such a pronouncement have far-reaching socioeconomic and political consequences. In the past five years, the renewable energy programme attracted 85% of all ‘direct foreign investment’and aided in the creation of over 20 000 cross-sector jobs. Eskom’s decision and ability to hold an industry with the capacity to create jobs, and one with and huge growth potential, to ransom has been called into question by many. Professor Anton Eberhard – an energy expert and lecturer at the UCT Graduate School of Business, theorises that reasoning behind the refusal to sign the agreement lies in Eskom wanting to maintain its ‘market position’ as it’s concerned about the competitive nature of independent power producers and the propensity to overtake Eskom’s market share.
Whatever the rationale may be, one thing is for sure, the winds of change are blowing in an unfavourable direction for the renewable energy sector in South Africa.