South Africa, a country with major electricity sector challenges, many of these self-imposed, has a government policy with an aggressive carbon footprint reduction imperative – but considering its socioeconomic situation how appropriate is this?

Globally, the way electricity is sourced is already highly politicised and becoming more so. Two opposing camps are forming between those who believe that security of supply and more affordable electricity is the first priority and those who believe climate change mitigation is.

In a trend starting from about 1750 and continuing up to today, socio-economic conditions and average life expectancy for a significant proportion of humanity has improved dramatically. This has coincided with the availability and use of large amounts of cheap energy sourced from fossil fuels: coal, oil and now gas. Between 1850 and 2010 the global population increased 5.5 times, and in 2050 human population on Earth is expected to peak at some 9.3 billion compared with today’s 7.2 billion. Per capita consumption of energy between 1850 and 2010 increased 8.9 times and this comes to a total consumption increase of 49 times over this period. Of the 7.2 billion people today 3.7 billion are urbanised; in 2015 6.3 billion of the projected 9.3 billion will be urbanised which implies further increases in energy usage.

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