The world has the potential to become 100% powered by renewable energy by 2050 – all it needs is political will – according to a report released by Greenpeace International in Cape Town earlier this week.
According to Emily Rochon, Technical Lead, Climate & Energy, Greenpeace International, in order to avoid a catastrophic climate change means to remain below the 20C threshold.
In order to attain this, global greenhouse gases need to decrease by an estimated 80% before 2050, which can be achieved through decarbonising the energy sector globally.
This was echoed by South African energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson in her closing remarks at the SAIREC conference on Tuesday: “To meet the greenhouse gas reduction objectives and mitigate global warming, as governments we need to actively pursue low-carbon policies.
“On our respective journeys to lower carbon pathways, renewable energy has a major role to play in the energy mix.”
“Solar can do just about everything and its getting cheaper,” Rochon stressed.
Rochon highlighted that renewable power is cheap, with solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind already lower in cost than new nuclear and coal. Renewable technology is faster to deploy and faster to build as well as being flexible.
In terms of solar PV flexibility, Rochon told ESI Africa that the technology can be used both on small and large applications. On a small scale, solar can be used to power parking meters and street lights. On a larger scale it can be installed on rooftops, parking canopies, landfills and in agricultural settings.
“Solar can provide power to keep the lights on and it can provide heat when paired with an air source heat pump. Solar can also be used to solve non-energy issues. For example, when used in car parks in snowy areas, it doubles as a shelter in the winter months to keep snow off cars and save money on snow removal efforts,” Rochon explained.
Small vs Large scale: equally important
According to Rochon, in order to achieve the 100% renewable energy target, the adoption of both small and large scale solar PV systems needs to be adopted.
She added that rooftop solar PV systems are beneficial, as it generates energy close to the source of consumption.
“This is a very efficient way to generate energy. It also enables the pairing of solar with storage technology to provide back-up power when the grid goes down and increase resiliency at the local level.”
Renewable power key for economy
In addition to generating a cleaner and more affordable means of power, the deployment of solar power will contribute towards the growth of the local economy through job creation and the procurement of local services.
Rochon highlighted: “The barrier to starting a small-scale residential solar business is not as great as a utility-scale solar business. What’s more, the jobs created are local jobs that cannot be outsourced.
“Going solar saves money on electricity bills and stabilises them. Insulating individuals and communities from volatile and increasing electricity prices has a range of ripple effects through the economy and allows people to more effectively plan budgets while spending less money on energy.”
Addressing delegates at SAIREC during a side event, Kumi Naido, International Executive Director, Greenpeace International said that those communities that contribute the least to CO02 are the ones who are paying the price.
A plea to Zuma
Talking to ESI Africa, Naido issued a plea, and challenges the South African President Jacob Zuma: “We appeal to President Zuma, to stop the nuclear plans. Nuclear is too expensive and too dangerous and as a solution to our energy crisis will deliver too little too late. We cannot wait 15 years for a nuclear plant to be built.
“We cannot risk our economy on a project that could spiral in terms of costs. We cannot give up our energy independence by developing a dependency on nuclear technology on companies that are driven solely by profit.
He stressed: “We should not put at risk poor communities who will likely be put at risk since this is where nuclear waste is likely to be stored. We need to take this off the table now and put our energies in clean, safe, renewable energy such as solar and wind and not waste time and resources on nuclear that will likely not be financed because of public pressure.”