by Roger Lilley, Energize
“The time for change is now”. This was the core of Western Cape Premier Alan Winde’s keynote address at the recent Windaba Connect event. The opportunity to make important changes in response to the serious crises South Africa faces should be our main focus, he said. The urgency of the crises we face must mobilise us to make the necessary changes, the audience was told.
The country faces numerous crises, he added, listing “day zero” (our water crisis), the energy crisis (load shedding), destructive wildfires, and extreme weather events. The risk of a city running out of water, or being swamped by heavy downpours of rainfall, can be predicted and must be mitigated. Lengthy droughts and long hot summers can be planned for. Electricity shortages can be afforded by proper planning and preventative maintenance.
These comments were highly pertinent since the Windaba event took place just days after devastating storms destroyed roads and bridges, flooded homes and businesses, and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.
South Africa cannot afford the cost of these crises, he said. The cost runs into billions of rand and thousands of lives lost. He added that 62 roads in the Western Cape remain closed - disastrous effects on the local economy - as a result of the recent heavy rains. He said that these roads should not just be repaired but be adapted to cope with future deluges of water. This means that drainage systems must be enlarged while the road is being repaired.
Why are experiencing these massive changes in our weather patterns? Since most experts agree that the world’s weather patterns have changed due to an excess of CO2 in the atmosphere, we should focus on achieving net-zero emissions and accelerate the rate at which new renewable energy projects are built.
But since the existing grid infrastructure cannot support the extra 50 GW of power that needs to be generated, microgrids should be built to provide power to the communities in the area where the projects are constructed. This means that private companies that build renewable energy projects should build microgrids to supply power to local communities. Large industries could assist too, by sharing power from their small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) projects with their neighbours.
Even municipalities could get involved. According to Premier Winde, many municipalities in the Western Cape had agreed to join forces and have committed to provide a total of R7-billion between them to extend their electrical distribution networks.
The cost of our electricity crisis is about R60-billion and load shedding is costing the country R900-million per day, he said.
Regarding the electrical grid infrastructure, Prof. Mark Swilling, University of Stellenbosch’s director of the centre for sustainability transitions, said at the same event, that the cost of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 would be US$250-billion. In addition to this, about $50-billion is needed for gas and energy storage systems to provide the flexibility needed to compensate for the variability of renewable energy systems.
In addition to these amounts, Prof. Swilling added that $24-billion is needed to retire the existing coal-fired power plants, and $10-billion for the transition.
Where would this money come from, he asked, rhetorically. From the private sector, he suggested, since R65-billion has already been spent on rooftop PV systems by the private sector – in the commercial, industrial, and residential sectors – to protect themselves, their businesses and lifestyles from load shedding. How? From pension funds, Prof. Swilling suggested. In this way, he added, those contributing to pension funds could be assured of having an infrastructure that would provide the services they would need when they retire.
The commitments to keep the rise in atmospheric temperature to 1,5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero levels, are still mandatory if we are to avoid further devastating weather events.