Genuine alternatives?

25 February 2015
Wind turbines in Darling, South Africa.
Wind turbines in Darling, South Africa.

The charge often levelled at those trying to find alternatives to traditional fossil-fuelled energy generation methods is that renewable energy sources are inefficient and expensive. Guy Cunliffe, chair of the Green Campus Initiative and master's student at the Energy Research Centre, suggests that this charge may pack less punch than before.

The Department of Minerals and Energy launched the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) in 2011. In the first round of bids, says Cunliffe, independent producers proposed selling alternative energy at a rate of around R1/kWh.

REIPPPP has been relatively successful up to now, and some alternative power stations have been built and are selling power back to the grid.

"So we do have some renewable energy in South Africa, which we didn't five years ago," says Cunliffe.

"What's interesting is that in the subsequent rounds of bidding, all the tariffs have come down dramatically. It's actually become very competitive, to the point now that I think in the 2013 rounds, the average wind tariff was something like 70 cents per kWh; whereas if you consider all the delays that Medupi has had and all the [unforeseen] expenses, they reckon that's going to be R1.10/kWh.

"So in fact, we're finding that renewables are becoming cheaper."

But cutting off coal power stations with immediate effect, for example, would cause hundreds of thousands to lose their jobs in a country where many people rely on primary skills to forge a living.

That's one issue, says Cunliffe.

Another – possibly more pressing – is that fossil fuel companies are still making "ridiculous profits", and Cunliffe doesn't see the energy landscape changing too much until those companies feel the need to change.

Story by Yusuf Omar. Photo by warrenski under Creative Commons license.

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Monday Monthly

Volume 34 Edition 01

25 Feb 2015

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