Interview with Daniel Swanepoel, renewable energy project expert, lead facilitator at the Spintelligent Training Academy and member of the African Utility Week Advisory Board. The interview was done with African Utility Week media partner, Opportunity Magazine.
United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently urged the private sector to ramp up clean energy investments in order to transition to a low-carbon economy – what is your take on this?
I would like to congratulate him on this statement. It is high time that the private sector starts to participate more actively in achieving our global climate change goals. As such the private sector has the ability, in this I refer to money, to transform itself and it also has the skills set or access to skills to deliver on this. At the end it is a win-win solution for all.
The time has come for us all to realise that if we do not contribute jointly to combat climate change, we can never succeed. In Africa we have something we call ‘Ubuntu’ – it means together. And we need to learn and understand that in a global world we have to work together in order to achieve our goals.
Ban Ki-moon is encouraging the private sector to double clean energy investments to $660 billion by 2020, Climate Action reported – what will the implications be for SA?
I think for SA it will just mean a more strategic approach when it comes to Clean Energy Investments We are in fact not doing badly when it comes to private sector investment in that many of our large corporate companies and even mining houses have contributed greatly in recent years to establish some form of renewable energy investments or to make their buildings more energy efficient which in turn should also be considered investment into Clean Energy.
How will this move affect the global economy?
This can potentially be the catalyst to kick-start the developed economies. It is a known fact that the developed world is struggling at the moment to achieve their desired economic growth rates. This brings about almost a separate economy on its own which will drive economic growth as we will see investment, skills development and realisation of capital projects.
It will also ensure that we shift our way of thinking about the global economy. The developed world depends heavily on the emerging market economies for their products, resources and supplies. It means that by default the largest gap for clean energy investments lies within the emerging markets.
We need to rebalance this on a global scale. If we look at global supply and demand we have to ensure that the investments are shared equally going forward.
How will it affect trade and investment in SA?
On a level of overview I think we will see some increase in investment into SA, however having said this, we are not doing badly when it comes to Clean Energy Investment. We do have one of the best IPP programmes globally when it comes to Clean Energy. We are one of the biggest solar destinations globally at this moment in time; wind has a lot of focus and other clean energy sources as well.
What I would like to see though is a shift towards Energy Efficiency and other sources of Clean Energy such as heat and emissions. We have to look at how we can solve different problems within the same solution.
Therefore in closure on this, there will be a marginal increase in investment into SA. I do feel the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa will be the place to watch more closely in this regard.
Any ideas/advice for the private sector have to do to double their clean energy investments?
The private sector needs to re-analyse their current strategies. They need to embrace the fact that we have to plan differently in an ever evolving global economy. This also means we have to embrace Clean Energy investment within our core strategy as it is one of the most important aspects of succeeding in business going forward.
When we hear the term Clean Energy investment in the Private Sector we often only see money and as such we become apprehensive, we do not listen any further. Reason being we do not see any benefit to ourselves and that in itself is an important point of discussion within the Private Sector.
Therefore, when we look at it from a strategic perspective, Clean Energy investment does not only mean the obvious which will be Solar, Wind Hydro etc. Companies should look more into becoming energy efficient, look towards achieving co-generation goals. They should ask themselves; is it not possible to solve two or more problems with one solution?
How about we invest into a project that takes care of our toxic waste yet it also assists us to generate electricity on the other side? These are all real possibilities in the world of Clean Energy these days. We should invest more time and effort into researching alternative energy resources. There is a myriad of possibilities out there yet companies fail to see these as real opportunities as they simply do not want to take the time and invest the initial money into such projects and solutions.
This is where a different way of thinking is required and urgently.
But surely government should also have a role in this process – what does that role look like?
Government has a role yes, but in this instance they should facilitate rather as to dictate or control the process. It is certainly important for government to make sure that companies receive support and guidance or receives incentives in as far as skills development programmes are concerned, however we should allow the private sector to find their own solution here. There should be room for dialogue to ensure we find the answers together and that we work together on this.
Clean Energy investment within the private sector should rather focus on achieving the goals of the private sector which could be bottom-line; earnings, or skills development or social development goals. Alternatively they can also explore manufacturing efficiency, energy redistribution and related outcomes.
Looking at it realistically – are current solutions to climate change feasible and actionable?
Yes and no.
Yes, in that we do have enough progress and continuous investment into Solar, Wind Hydro, Geothermal and some others to ensure we do not lose traction and growth in the sector.
No, in that we do not seem to grasp the enormous potential yet in other sources of energy – what we call Alternative Energy sources. This can be heat as an energy source, waste as a source of energy, Vibrations etc. The options here are endless. These in itself might not generate enough energy to power full blown power stations however they can achieve energy efficiency and that should also be included in the scope of Clean Energy investments.
We should explore the options that are termed ‘Clever Technologies’ more. When we can achieve lower total carbon emissions we should embrace that solution within the ambits of Clean Energy.
Bank Ki-moon’s idea is that “markets now have the clear signal they need to unleash the full force of human ingenuity and scale up investments that can generate low-emissions resilient growth” – what’s your take on this?
I agree with him fully on this statement. We do have the force of human ingenuity in that we have the skills set, we do put enough money into research and new solutions are available almost on a daily basis.
As much as we do face tough times economically globally there is still more than sufficient money available to ensure the investment targets are achieved. We have started the upside of the curve should we analyse the global economy as a whole which in turn relates to an increase in possible investment.
By combining the increase in investment, the increase in research output and skills development with a definite need for clean energy investment we have a very good combination to ensure we achieve all the goals.
Clean Energy investment is not something we can choose to do any longer; it is something we have to do. We have a global population that view companies differently, they view their produce differently and this all relate back to climate change and how we treat the environment as well as the earth. We have to make a change. The time is now; today.
The UN Secretary General said: “Investors and businesses that redirect resources to low-carbon, climate-resilient growth will be the economic powerhouses of the 21st century. Those that fail to do so will be on the losing side of history. Every decision on investment and resource allocation must be part of the solution. Every dollar must be invested in low-carbon goods and services.” How will this affect doing business in South Africa?
I have mentioned above that the consumer is becoming more informed. When we look at global trends one thing that is a certainty is that brands will not be owned by companies in the future but by the consumers. This means that the consumers will dictate the direction of the brand.
If I buy a product in Europe that originates from Africa I will have a few questions that need to be answered first:
– Did this come from an environmentally responsible source?
– Did they treat the workers with respect?
– Did they use energy efficient technology to process this product?
– Did they ensure that they combat climate change in the process of production?
There are many more questions one can add in here.
The reality is that within the global context the consumer will force the corporate world to change. Those that already make the investment now will be ready for the future. They will be the ones leading the trends into the future.
We have a saying that goes – ‘The Early bird catches the worm’.
The message to the corporate world should be, do not allow yourself to be caught off-guard on this one. Without any significant change in producing your product you can re-align your process to allow for sufficient clean energy investment. Clean Energy does not only equate to additional money being invested as it can also enhance your process. The challenge for corporate companies will be to find that solution that takes care of more than one problem simultaneously.