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South Africa watches as German renewables growth path falters

13 September 2012 – Germany’s solar-heating growth path, which was on a steady upward trajectory, has hit a speed bump and environment minister Peter Altmaier has had to put the brakes on the country’s energy revolution.

Despite this, Sustainable Energy Association of Southern Africa (SESSA) ombudsman, Carel Ballack, says that country’s rapid adoption of renewable energies should serve as an inspiration to both South African consumers and the providers of heating systems using solar energy because it proves that ambitious targets can be met if there is sufficient will.

Ballack says, however that word out of Germany is that the fast pace into the renewables future has presented German consumers with spiralling electricity bills.At issue, he says, is the German Renewable Energy Act. This forces power companies to buy wind and solar energy from producers at fixed prices, which are much higher than electricity produced by traditional methods.

At the same time, industry receives large subsidies − the country’s largest industrial consumers use some 18% of the electricity produced but pay only 0.3% of the extra costs generated by the mandated feed-in tariffs.

In addition, Germany’s power grid hasn’t kept up with the explosion of new alternative energy sources − particularly the offshore windparks being built in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea off the country’s north coast. Many of those projects are at a standstill, with no way to deliver the power they generate to the mainland.

“Unfortunately, the inefficiency of the renewable energy subsidy programme has driven up the cost of the energy revolution to a point where projects have been put on hold while a debate on how to reach the targets in the most cost-effective way is concluded,” Ballack says.

“Despite this setback to the north, South Africa should be inspired by the gusto with which Germany attacked its sustainable energy targets,” he argues. “In June last year, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany was turning away from nuclear power and toward renewable energies. Her government decided that by 2020 renewables would make up a 35% share of the energy mix.

“Many regarded this figure as unattainable but in the first half of 2012 – that’s eight years before deadline – the country generated fully 25% of its electricity needs via wind, solar and other alternative power sources. This effectively silenced the nay-sayers.

“In South Africa, the Department of Energy’s target is to replace 10,000 GWh by sustainable energies by 2013, and said that 23% of that – 2,300 GWh – could be delivered by solar heating.

“According to Eskom’s web site, by September 2011, 60 GWh of saving had been achieved via the installation of 156,000 systems through its rebate scheme.

“By August this year, the number of installations claimed for had increased by 84% to 240,058 units, according to the latest DASH report. This, we can extrapolate, brings the saving up to about 110 GWh. This is far short of the target but, if we look to Germany for inspiration, we can turn the situation around,” he says.

“South Africans must be convinced to make the shift to solar, particularly as most areas in South Africa average more than 2,500 hours of sunshine a year. By contrast, Germans see an average of just over 1,500 hours of sunshine per year, a bit less than 64 days’ worth of sunlight.”