Excerpted from Jeffrey Barbee:
(not exactly a distributed energy strategy, but still largely good news)
“Although still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, South Africa has been quietly creating one of the world’s most progressive alternative energy plans. Solar, biomass and wind energy systems are popping up all over the country and feeding clean energy into the strained electrical grid.
“It is set to completely transform these deep rural communities in terms of healthcare, education, job creation and a raft of other interventions. All this while putting green electricity on the grid at affordable prices,” said Johan van den Berg, director of the South African Wind Energy Association.
Like all the projects in the country a percentage of the equity of the Cookhouse wind farm is held by the Cookhouse community trust. The trustees come from the local community and they funnel the profits of 15% of the sale of the energy into health care, education and job creation.
But it is low price for the electricity that is really making the difference. Wind energy from new projects now costs 5 US cents per kWh, roughly half the cost of new coal.
Renewable energy has a long way to go to overtake South Africa’s reliance on coal though. It is number 11 in the world for total CO2 output from energy use and the fifth largest producer of the climate-changing fossil fuel.
The situation seems poised to get worse as construction continues on Medupi, the largest dry cooled coal-fired power station in the world.
Meant to be completed by 2013, the station has been mired in delays and cost overruns since construction first started in 2007.
Meanwhile, wind power has been quietly piling on capacity. Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the South African minister of energy said in a recent speech that the country has added a total of 4,322MW of renewable energy capacity in less than four years.
Medupi, whenever it is finished, is designed to supply 4,764MW.
That renewables have almost surpassed the output of such a station in about half the time of it’s still-unfinished construction is a testament to the government’s commitment to alternative energy, the maturity of the technology and the work of hundreds of companies, organisations and partnering governments.
“In the last 16 years the best way to describe it is that it’s a rocket launch after a very slow countdown,” says van den Berg.
The government is still pursuing other energy types with a plan to open up 20% of the country to shale gas fracking and a controversial deal set up by President Jacob Zuma in 2014 to buy eight new nuclear power plants from Russia for $84bn. But van den Berg sees a step change for renewables.
“For the first decade of working in climate change I felt like we were rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship and making no real impact.”
“In my heart of hearts, I wasn’t convinced there was a technical solution, renewable energy wasn’t as yet affordable. Today, all of that has changed.”
It’s not only power that is flowing from the 79 licensed projects underway in the country, the South Africa’s Department of Energy reports that $16.8bn has been injected into the country’s economic infrastructure through the various projects.
The numbers have piqued the interest of big traditional energy companies like Exxaro. The company produces 39m tons of coal per year to feed the world’s hunger for energy, but they are now poised to break ground on a $300m wind energy project in the Eastern Cape.
“What we are seeing is not only is the technology producing much cleaner power but it’s doing so at a lower cost than traditional fossil fuel technologies,” said Evan Rice, chief executive of Greencape, in Cape Town, a government funded not-for-profit development agency.”