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Energy Indaba: Renewable energy high on agenda

21/02/2012

There is a lot of energy in the air at the Africa Energy Indaba (AEI) at the Sandton Convention Centre. And that is just what many delegates were hoping for at the opening of the event on Tuesday.

The AEI is an annual conference with a strong emphasis on renewable energy resources.

On the backdrop of a successful hosting of COP17 in Durban at the close of last year, the Minister of Energy Dipuo Peters, opened the programme of the indaba, reflecting on questions that seem to be crucial for the energy future of the country.

These range from energy efficiency, to diversification of the energy mix towards a low carbon economy, the nuclear power issue and universal access to energy, an issue which still plagues many in South Africa.

But the real question on everyone’s mind is, “How do we, in South Africa, reduce our carbon emissions from an energy supply base that is 90% coal, while still creating jobs and growing the economy?”

The opinion of many speakers is that renewable energy is not only sustainable, but profitable and job creating.

Derek Batte, from the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), says characteristically, “Renewable energy industry will create more jobs than during the IT boom in Africa”

“It’s about jobs, stupid”, says Happy Masondo, director of Werksmans.

The role of infrastructure expansion is a national priority as indicated in the state of the nation address by President Jacob Zuma earlier this month, and energy resources are a key part of this development.

Although it is expected that Eskom will be raising tariffs in order to build more generation and distribution capacity, with expected increases to be 25-30%, renewable energy sources are looking all the more attractive.

Also, considering it has been some 20 years since South Africa commissioned any new power plants matched with the infamous national blackouts of 2008, renewable energy sources are being pushed higher up the agenda.

The technologies associated with these developments are nothing short of exciting but none will necessarily solve any one country’s problems.

With about 580 million people in Africa having no access to electricity according to J.K. Mehta, the regional manager of the World Energy Council (WEC), a number of diverse solutions will need to be explored.

Dr Christoph Frei, Secretary General of the WEC says, “There is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution for the varied nature of Africa’s energy challenges”

“Each African country needs to find its own way of balancing the trade-offs between the three dimensions of the ‘energy trilemma’ to ensure security of supply, affordability of prices, and respect for the environment.”

But given the attendance of the Indaba and the innovative technologies on display on the exhibition floor, the doom and gloom of the future is slowing, giving way to an outlook that is someone brighter.

As Managing Director of the Africa Energy Indaba, Liz Hart says,”Our aim is to explore tangible and practical solutions to the challenges facing Africa’s energy needs”.

The conference will run until Thursday. The exhibition floor is open to the public.

This was a piece written for The New Age. Read it on their website here

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