S.Africa well-positioned to light the way for solar - CNBC Africa

S.Africa well-positioned to light the way for solar

Special Report

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According to South Africa’s Department of Energy, most areas in South Africa average more than 2,500 hours of sunshine per year, and average solar radiation levels range between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m2 in one day.

Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, the executive director at Greenpeace Africa, believes that there should be a good mix of different renewable energy sources but that solar is very suitable for South Africa.  

“Scientifically speaking, South Africa, I think, is the biggest recipient of solar radiation in the world by country, so that means a solar system is very suitable for South Africa. Every day you get a minimum of nine hours of sunlight, there are very few countries in the world where you can get that,” O'Brien-Onyeka told ABN Digital.

“There are coastal areas like the Western Cape region, where they have lots of wind. You can do solar there but you can also do wind power. A mix of wind and solar across the country would really take South Africa into the new energy revolution age and provide affordable access to clean energy.”

The Gauteng province recently announced plans to spend 11 billion rand on installing solar panels on all its state-owned buildings.

Gauteng Infrastructure Development MEC Qedani Mahlangu had said that the investment would be in line with the province's integrated energy strategy, and that it was one of several infrastructure projects that her department would initiate in the current financial year.

O’Brien-Onyeka insisted that all that is needed to implement a project like this is an enabling policy environment.

“Let me be clear about it: we don’t think that the state is best placed to implement, but the state is best placed to initiate and encourage and push this – to provide a guarantee. For example, interest free loans from banks for any household or any new housing development that wants to completely solarise the building. We’ve been speaking with different banks in South Africa, they are very happy to get fully involved,” he said.

“It’s a question of policy matching implementation. We have confidence in the Gauteng regional government. We‘ve been engaging with them for a long time now and we know they are fully committed to really taking renewable energy to scale across the region. We hope that the implementation will match the ideals and the intent.”  

Greenpeace Africa undertook a similar project by installing solar photovoltaic panels at its Johannesburg office in an attempt to prove the viability of renewable energy in South Africa.

“When Greenpeace Africa decided to walk the talk, it took us a few days to sort the materials and get it installed. There are so many private sector companies in South Africa that are involved and fully engaged in the renewable energy industry, particularly solar,” O’Brien-Onyeka explained.

“We are generating 18,000 kilowatts of energy and our total consumption at peak time is 16,000 – we can easily put 2,000 kilowatts of energy into the national grid if we have a system that allows for reversed metering.”

He added that as more people get involved in utilising solar energy, South Africa’s ability to reduce its energy shortage expands.    

“If a small entity like Greenpeace Africa can do that, imagine the big mining companies, the big industrial companies, other individuals who can afford to put solar – how much they can be generating in excess. Over a short period of three years, with this momentum, we would definitely cut back on the energy deficiency.”

While infrastructure plays a massive role in being able to properly implement solar energy initiatives, O’Brien-Onyeka maintains that it’s not as complex as it looks.

“The future is through a centralised energy system – you don’t need big road access or infrastructure to take power into rural areas. If rural areas are encouraged and supported to generate their own energy through a rooftop revolution, in a few years, you will have massive access across the board in South Africa,” he indicated.

“Economic-wise, business-wise, it makes sense to invest in this and be the driving force in the continent. South Africa should be investing in research and development to be able to position itself to drive that change across the continent – the market is there, the demand is there.”