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A week ahead of South Africa's second National Climate Change Summit (to be held from 3 - 6 March at Gallagher Estate), environmental organization WWF is calling on policy-makers to "get out of the starting blocks" in the global rush for renewable energy.
"We can go some way towards stabilizing the country's emissions through more efficient use of electricity," according to Richard Worthington, WWF South Africa's Climate Change Programme Manager, "but to respond to climate change to the extent that climate science requires us to, in other words, to an extent that will help avoid worst case scenarios of climate change, we will have to switch our energy economy from coal, oil and gas to sun, wind and water."
The Department of Minerals and Energy has set itself a target 10 000GWh of electricity to be generated by renewable energy by 2013. This (according to the Department) would require the equivalent of two of the six 600MW units in a single coal power station, or just slightly more than 3% of the country's generation capacity. So far, the only large-scale renewable energy project to be announced by Eskom is a wind farm of 100MW - one twelfth of what would be required to meet the target.
Released today, a publication titled "Cheaper Electricity with Renewable Energy" shows that generating 15% of our electricity from a combination of wind and solar power by 2020 is not only achievable, but also affordable. Meeting such a target without any international support will raise the cost of electricity in 2020 by only 15% compared to building coal power stations instead. This is an increase lower than the price increase in electricity in 2008 alone.
With an industrial energy efficiency initiative implemented in parallel to this target, by 2020 electricity would cost no more than if more coal power stations were built instead. If, in addition, carbon credits from an international carbon market could provide an additional incentive at an average $20/tonne of greenhouse gas avoided, the cost of electricity could actually drop by 18% compared to the cost of building coal power stations. These costs were established through energy modelling by UCT's Energy Research Centre, based on the Long Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) - a multi-stakeholder futures modelling project completed at the end of 2007.
The LTMS provides the point of departure for the National Climate Change Summit in March. The Summit is expected to establish "a National Climate Change Response Policy that includes, among others, fiscal, regulatory and legislative packages as well as sectoral implementation plans." According to a cabinet statement last year, it is expected that these policies will be drafted in time for the key UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December 2009 and to be in place by the end of 2010.
South Africa's emissions on a per capita basis are on par with that of much wealthier nations like Japan or the UK. The electricity sector contributes around 40% of South Africa's greenhouse gas emissions. With more than 90% of its electricity derived from coal, South Africa has the second-most greenhouse gas-intensive electricity in the world (after Poland).
"If we do not clean up our act by switching to renewable energy, we risk having to live with ever-increasing fuel prices and the possibility of international penalties or trade barriers for South African exports manufactured with dirty energy," says Worthington. "Unless we can show convincing and ambitious domestic action on climate change, South Africa risks losing the credibility it has earned through the progressive leadership role that the country has played in international climate negotiations to date."
"On the positive side, the clean energy sector is expected not only to emerge early from a global economic slump, but infrastructure investment in clean energy can also help alleviate that slump world wide. Renewable energy investment can be a source of job creation and rural empowerment."
In the US, President Obama's $787bn stimulus package, approved this month, includes more than $60bn in fiscal support for renewable energy and the smart grids that intelligently connect renewable energy to clean energy demand.
Renewable energy has proven to be a significant boon to employment in troubled financial times. While wind and solar still contribute less than 3% of that nation's electricity demand, a five-fold increase in installed wind capacity over the last five years has (according to the American Wind Power Association) created employment for 83 000 people building and operating wind power plants in the US. In addition, the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that the newly signed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will create 110,000 jobs in the solar industry in the next two years. This means that within two years, wind and solar power will provide more jobs in the US than coal mining, transport and power stations combined (193 000 compared to 174 000)."
Additional information: Download the full report from WWF's site
News date: 25/02/2009