SOUTH AFRICA’S FUTURE DEPENDS ON EMBRACING THE GREEN REVOLUTION
- Jan 12, 2023 4:06 pm GMT
As South Africans, we are facing crises—crises of energy, crises of the economy, and crises of the environment. It's time for us to fully embrace the green revolution!
1. The coal lobby
To begin with, let us address the elephant in the room: the coal lobby. It is no secret that the coal industry has a powerful presence in South Africa. The state-owned utility Eskom is the largest contributor to our country's greenhouse gas emissions. The coal lobby controls a large portion of our energy market and has continuously thwarted efforts to switch to greener, more environmentally friendly energy sources.
2. Corruption & incompetence
But it is not just the coal lobby that's to blame for our energy woes. The municipality debt, incompetence, and corruption that plague our country has also played a significant role in the deteriorating state of our energy sector. The construction mafia and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) have also contributed to the chaos.
3. Eskom's financial woes
Eskom is on the brink of economic collapse. The utility company has amassed a debt of over R396 billion and has struggled to keep the lights on, with load shedding becoming more intensified and frequent in recent years. The root cause of Eskom's financial woes can be traced back to years of mismanagement, corruption, and reliance on outdated and inefficient coal-fired power plants.
4. Municipality debt
But it's not just Eskom that is facing financial difficulties. Municipal debt in South Africa has reached crisis levels, with the total municipal debt standing at over R140 billion. This debt crisis is mainly due to corruption, incompetence, and a lack of political will to address the issue. As a result, many municipalities are not able to provide basic services such as electricity, water, and sanitation to their communities.
5. Energy department and the Minister
Amidst all this chaos, the DMRE and Minister Gwede Mantashe have been largely ambivalent in their approach to the energy crisis. While they have made some efforts to promote the development of renewable energy, these efforts have been piecemeal and insufficient to address the scale of the crisis.
6. Coal-fired greenhouse gases
But it's not just about the energy crisis. The continued reliance on fossil fuels such as coal is also having a devastating impact on the environment. According to a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the continued use of fossil fuels is incompatible with the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C. In South Africa, the energy sector is responsible for over 80% of our country's greenhouse gas emissions, with the majority of these emissions coming from coal-fired power plants.
7. Lethal & expensive air pollution
The negative impacts of coal go beyond just climate change. The use of coal also has severe health impacts, with air pollution from coal-fired power plants leading to an estimated 2,200 premature deaths in South Africa each year. The economic cost of this air pollution is estimated to be around R80 billion per year, according to a study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).
8. Construction mafia
But it's not just the coal industry that is causing environmental damage. The construction mafia, which has a history of flouting environmental regulations, has also contributed to the degradation of our natural resources. In addition, the DMRE has been accused of ignoring the environmental impacts of mining and exploration activities.
EMBRACING THE GREEN REVOLUTION
1. Welcome the renewables
Despite all of these challenges, it is critical to recognize that embracing the green revolution offers a way out of this mess. Renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are not only more sustainable, but they are also becoming increasingly cost-competitive. A recent study by the CSIR found that a transition to renewables could save South Africa billions of rands in avoided health and environmental costs.
2. Crank up energy efficiency
Additionally, investing in energy efficiency measures is a low-hanging fruit that can reduce our energy demand and save money in the long run.
3. Build up the green hydrogen industry
But it's not just about the money. Embracing the green revolution also offers the opportunity to leapfrog South Africa to a higher level of industrialization. The production of green hydrogen, for example, has the potential to create new industries and thousands of jobs.
4. Tap into energy storage & smart grids
Of course, some will argue that renewables are intermittent and unreliable. But this is not true. Technological advancements, such as energy storage solutions and smart grids, have made it possible to balance out the intermittent nature of renewables.
5. Seize the opportunity to lead the world
Some may also argue that Western countries are hypocritical in their calls for a transition to renewables, given their reliance on fossil fuels. While this may be true to an extent, it is crucial to recognize that South Africa has the opportunity to take a leadership role in the global transition to renewables. We cannot afford to be held back by the actions of others.
6. Create green jobs
Some will argue that the green revolution threatens jobs in the fossil fuel industry. Although a shift to renewable energy will unavoidably result in employment losses in the fossil fuel business, these losses will be mitigated by the creation of new jobs in the renewable energy sector. A 2019 study by the CSIR found that a transition to renewables could result in net job creation of around 200,000 by 2050.
7. Support a just transition
Another argument often raised is the fear of The Just Transition for those working in the fossil fuel industry. It should be noted that the just transition requires adequate support and training for those affected by the transition to renewables. This can include retraining programs, financial support, and the establishment of new industries in regions heavily reliant on the fossil fuel industry.
8. Develop a local supply chain
Finally, we must address the elephant in the room: China. It is no secret that we have become overly reliant on the Chinese supply chain, and this has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. But embracing the green revolution offers the opportunity to diversify our supply chains and reduce our reliance on imports.
In conclusion, the time for action is now. We cannot afford to wait any longer. The green revolution is not just the right thing to do for the environment, but it is also the smart thing to do for our economy and our energy security. It is time for us to stand up to the coal lobby and the other forces holding us back. It is time for South Africa to fully embrace the green revolution.
Lucky is the Commercial Director at Mwangaza Group, a Pan-African renewable energy development company.
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