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Author: Dr Eureta Rosenberg & Claire Janisch

( Article Type: Overview )


  • Using solar energy to heat water in our homes, public buildings and factories, could save over 10% of the electricity that we normally use from the national grid. Domestic solar water heaters usually pay for themselves in 3–5 years. A widespread installation of solar water heating in industrial, commercial and domestic buildings would significantly diminish the need for building new power plants.
  • Unlike coal and nuclear plants, it takes current generation solar and photovoltaic power nets less than three years, and wind turbines only one year, to generate more energy than what was used to build them.
  • Renewable energy is a good economic investment as the international market is currently growing at between 25–45% each year. Shell estimates that by 2050, as much as a third of all energy will be generated from renewable sources. The feasibility of renewable energy options for large scale and peak demand use is also improving. Denmark currently produces 15% of its electricity through wind generators. In Germany, domestic users generate enough electricity at home through photovoltaic cells to sell excess capacity to the main grid.
  • Renewable energy suppliers have to compete with oil, gas, coal, and nuclear fuel providers. The cost of electricity from renewable energy sources is initially higher than from more established technologies, which are often subsidised and have reached their current level of cost efficiency only after many years of research and development. The cost efficiencies of renewable energy technologies are however improving, in proportion with increased investment to research and develop these technologies. Furthermore, the delivery cost of energy from fossil and nuclear fuels still does not include their full real costs in terms of de-commissioning and the cost of their environmental and health impacts.
  • Renewables are sustainable energy resources that do not deplete our natural resources.
  • Some renewable sources utilise energy sources that would otherwise be wasted, such as biogas that taps methane given off by rotting materials (biomass) in landfill sites.
  • Renewable energy resources avoid the harmful impacts and risks related to fossil fuels and nuclear power.
  • Renewables do have some environmental impacts, for example pollution from the chemicals used to produce solar batteries, the visual impact of wind generators and the danger of birds flying into them. Energy is also required to manufacture and install solar components. These impacts are however smaller and more localised compared to those of nuclear and fossil fuels.
  • Combustion of biomass and biomass-derived fuels produces air pollution. There are also concerns about using productive arable land which could otherwise be used for food production to grow energy crops.
  • Unlike ‘high-tech’ and capital-intensive technologies, per unit of energy produced, many more jobs can be created through renewable technologies in general (952 direct jobs) and biogas generation (1 341), compared to nuclear energy (80) and liquid petroleum gas (130). In pursuing the national Renewable Energy Strategy target of 10 000GWh, more than 35 000 jobs would be created and R687 million would be added to the incomes of low-income households.
  • Unlike nuclear and fossil fuel plants, that belong to big companies, government, or state-owned enterprises, renewable energy sources allow local ownership and can facilitate rural economic empowerment. Small units can be set up that are suitable for community management and ownership and in this way, the value from renewable energy projects can be kept within local communities. As the electricity grid does not extend to many remote rural areas, the opportunity to construct small renewable power plants close to where they are needed can facilitate income, skills transfer and manufacturing opportunities for small businesses in these rural communities.
  • Generating electricity from cleaner sources prevents both upstream and downstream pollution at their sources, thus improving and safeguarding public health.
  • Because they are constantly replenished, renewable energy resources provide a security of supply, unlike fossil fuels that are traded on international markets and subject to international competition, sometimes resulting in wars and shortages. A greater diversity of energy resources is in the interest of national and international security.

In conclusion, to make sure we have sufficient energy in the future, it is up to all of us to use energy wisely. Much can be done to reduce our energy consumption. This is within everyone’s ability and will have a significant impact on the future quality of our lives. It is the most important thing we as consumers can do. At the same time, we need to lobby for energy production with fewer ecological and health impacts and greater potential to stimulate socially just economic growth. We need to recognise that the real costs of cheap energy include acid rain, the health risks of air pollution, poor water quality, the build-up of long-lived radioactive wastes, economic inequalities, and widening security threats. These ‘hidden’ costs are becoming unacceptably high, leading many to question the traditional ‘build-and-grow’ strategies involving fossil and nuclear fuels. Instead, energy conservation, improved energy efficiency, and a shift to renewable energy development increasingly represent the most promising tools for our energy future.

Associated Organisations:

Future Light , Beco Institute for Sustainable Business , BP SA , Bulgaz Convertors , City of Cape Town - Environmental Planning , Department of Energy , Eskom , Department of Trade and Industry , Durban Solid Waste Cleansing and Solid Waste , Spintelligent , Biolight , Savannah Environmental , International Institute for Energy Conservation - Africa , Kumba Resources , National Business Initiative (NBI) , Riso Africa , Nedbank Group , New Energy Technologies (Pty) Ltd , Programme for Basic Energy & Conservation , Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) Southern Africa Secretariat , Sasol Limited , Living Green , Southern African Association for Energy Efficiency (SAEE) , SouthSouthNorth Trust , Chem-free Aqua , WSP Environment & Energy , International Technology Sourcing , I M Lighting , The Green Shop , Flexopower , African Windpower , Addicom , Green Life Store , eZee SA , Sunfor Technologies , ZM Pumps , i Power SA ve , Global Carbon Exchange , ELECTRIC BLUE LED CC , sustainableIT , Freefall Trading 115 , AdoGreen Recruitment , South African National Energy Association (SANEA) - , Greenability , Solarise Energy Solutions , Astronomical Society of Southern Africa - Dark Sky Section , Energywise Systems , SMA Solar Technology South Africa , Kestrel Wind Turbines , Exxaro Resources Limited , Nokia South Africa Ltd , MTN , Biofires cc , Energy Institute, Cape Peninsula University of Technology , Kwazulu-Natal Master Builders and Allied Industries , Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa (SESSA) , Utility Management for Africa (UMFA) , African Climate Reality Project - Food & Trees for Africa , Blue North Sustainability (Pty) Ltd , Confronting Climate Change Initiative , Africa Focus Consulting