MPs take up renewable energy cause

Posted by Laura Grant on October 30, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Parliamentarians from a cross-section of political parties have formed a lobby group to try and get things moving in the renewable energy sector in South Africa. Calling itself eREACT (e parliament Renewable Energy Activists), its first move this week was to unveil a private members bill on feed-in tariffs.

Essentially, it would entail Eskom, the electricity utility, ensuring that private providers of renewable energy get a fixed tariff to feed energy into the grid for a fixed period of time.

The business community has reportedly been reluctant to invest in renewable energy because it could not get a guaranteed price per kWh for the electricity it produced.

“Hopefully our introducing this bill will be a wake up call to ministers who should be driving the renewables programme, to which they largely pay lip service,” said the group’s convener, Dr Ruth Rabinowitz of the Inkatha Freedom Party, in a statement.

Feed-in tariffs have had a huge impact on the uptake of renewable energy in countries where they have been implemented, she said. “This fosters entrepreneurship, creates jobs, offers certainty to the industry, encourages provision of energy other than conventional coal-fired for rural areas and helps clean up the environment.”

In South Africa, the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) has proposed the concept of a feed-in tariff for three years and has even drafted guidelines for it, she said. But, “at present there is no integrated vision or strategy to fast track development of a renewable energy industry in our country”.

Solar water heating should be routine and solar photovoltaic electricity generation should be incentivised, along with many other forms of alternative energy such as geothermal, biomass and biodiesel, said Rabinowitz.

The 2003 White Paper on Renewable Energy set a target of 10,000GWh hours by 2013. “At present we produce 53.8GWh from biofuels and 148.2GWH from other sources, a far cry from the recommended target in spite of our Cabinet approved Climate Mitigation Strategy,” she said.

“The recently adopted energy bill made scant mention of renewable energy, without targets or clarity on where responsibility for it would rest.”

According to the group, Trevor Manuel, the finance minister, has stated that he is not convinced of the economic case for large-scale renewable energy projects in South Africa. The focus, therefore, remains on nuclear and coal-fired power stations.

The case for solar thermal
There is convincing evidence, however, that the world’s best site for large-scale solar power generation is in the Northern Cape. Eskom has been looking into building a 100MW concentrated solar thermal power (CSTP) plant there, but appears to have put the project on hold.

A CSTP plant comprises a field of giant mirrors that track the sun and focus its rays onto a central focal point, known as a receiver. The receiver absorbs the radiation and transfers the heat to molten salt which is then used to generate steam which is used to drive turbines that generate electricity. Another type of plant entails parabolic mirrors. (More on CTSP)

Gareth Morgan of the Democratic Alliance says the greatest barrier to the establishment of concentrated solar thermal power in South Africa seems to be the cost of the technology. This manifests itself in the price of electricity generated from it.

But there are arguments that CSTP-generated electricity may already be competitive with South Africa’s peaking electricity price today, especially if it is supported with financing from carbon trading and tradable renewable energy certificates.

In a Sapa report, Howard Ramsden, CEO of Terra Power Solutions, was quoted as saying at the media briefing on the launch of the private members bill that the cost of establishing a solar power station was about R17-million a megawatt. The plant would need to sell its electricity at a minimum of 80 cents a kWh to break even. A similar figure applied to wind turbines. The current cost to consumers of Eskom power was 36 cents a kWh, but Eskom’s peak-usage gas turbine plants put out power at R2,80 a kWh, he was reported as saying.

“Encouraging CSTP would contribute to South Africa’s target of reversing its carbon emissions growth by 2020-2025. International climate change financing can be encouraged in developing the technology of CSTP, and South Africa can and should aim to gain from the renewable energy, in particular CSTP, investments being seen today. Such investments will increase massively in the future,” said Morgan.

Morgan said if the parliamentary schedule allowed, the bill – sponsored by Rabinowitz and supported by Lance Greyling of the Independent Democrats and Judy Chalmers of the ANC – would be tabled before Parliament closes ahead of next year’s election.


2 Responses to “MPs take up renewable energy cause”

  1. Lollie
    November 7th, 2008 @ 9:20 pm

    Well done to these MPs. Why can’t there be more MPs like this?

  2. Arief
    December 22nd, 2009 @ 2:59 pm

    Solar energy is still too expensive and complex to get into practical use, the fossil is still prefered for most occasions. Moreover, the people in the developing countries are playing the nost significant role in the environment issues, due to the large populatoin and poor technology. Science and technology is still not developed in the field of environment and energy.

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