Why should Eskom have all the power?

Posted by Laura Grant on April 7, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

In an interesting comment piece in Business Day recently, Sarah Ward of Sustainable Energy Africa, wrote that “there is nothing like a crisis for opening the doors for much needed change”. It’s hard to conceive of the energy crisis, that neither the government nor Eskom – the utility that produces 96 percent of South Africa’s electricity – appears to be prepared to take responsibility for, as an opportunity, but Ward writes that we are at a point in time when “we can change SA’s energy picture forever, and for the better”.

The way to do this, she writes, is for cities to take charge of their own energy and develop “energy pictures” that suit their own unique needs. This is a move away from the “one-size-fits-all shoe” they have historically had to accept because it is all that has been made available by Eskom, she writes. Power has been centralised and the country has been “force-fed” and “become heavily addicted to, big power from one utility and one source of energy (electricity from coal power)”.

Nuclear is Eskom’s “clean” energy alternative of choice and it is set to become a major part of our energy future. But renewables and energy efficiently don’t seem to be taken nearly seriously enough.

Ward gives examples of how cities could power their own futures:

• Substantial energy supplies are provided by locally available sources (ocean, wind, sun, waste ) by several utilities;

• Energy efficiency is heavily incentivised (it is much cheaper to save electricity than to make it) and the “polluter pays” principle is applied;

• Safe and affordable energy sources are available to the poor and industry is encouraged to produce and purchase clean power;

• Local government buildings are retrofitted for energy saving and staff are given incentives to reduce their energy consumption;

• Waste is turned into useful energy; and

• All residential areas glitter with solar water heaters.

She writes that a number of South African cities already have strategies – which is very exciting news – but she adds that the real struggle is now implementing them. She has ideas on what is needed to help cities take charge, which you can read in the original article.

As an ordinary South African I’ve never lived in a city that didn’t only receive electricity from one utility; I saw a solar panel in operation in a home for the first time a few months ago; and if you’d asked me a year ago what co-generation was, I’d probably have answered something to do with artificial insemination. What exactly the empowered cities Ward talks about would look like would have been very hard to imagine if a couple of months ago I hadn’t come across something on the Internet called EffienCity.

It’s a fabulous interactive city created by Greenpeace UK that explains what decentralised energy is and how it works in practice. Using video case studies, animations and slide shows, it shows how real cities around the world are using decentralised energy . “As a result, they’re enjoying lower greenhouse gas emissions, a more secure energy supply, cheaper electricity and heating bills and a whole new attitude towards energy,” says Greenpeace.

Ward says one of the key projects cities should be implementing is informing and educating residents and business. She’s right, many South Africans still see renewable energy as expensive, unreliable, and science-fiction. It’s very enlightening to see what other cities around the world are doing.


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