Gauteng Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  19 Dec 2011

RENEWABLE ENERGY: Barriers to Renewable Energy Alternatives in South Africa


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Population growth, especially in emerging markets like Africa, as well as a lack of infrastructure planning and development on the part of government has resulted in an ever-increasing energy demand in South Africa that will not be met over the next few years. The topic of energy and our needs locally is well-worn in South Africa with the unforgettable power outages of months and years past, but Mark van Heerden, director of power management company Perpetual Power Systems says that the need to invest in development of renewable energy solutions in our country is vital.

“There is an increasing need for enterprise and private properties to reduce the strain on Eskom by using co-generation or renewable energy technology to lower your load,” says van Heerden. “Although renewable energy is an option, the two main barriers currently are firstly the cost of implementation and secondly the relatively low power density from the current technology.”

With no current feed-in tariff from Eskom grid tied, solar PV array panels can be sized for the minimum base load to reduce the maximum demand payable and energy consumption.

The Incredible High Cost of Renewable Energy Systems

The initial cost of purchase and installation is the number one drawback for solar systems in South Africa. The cost is higher than grid provided electricity, but with the rising cost of fossil fuel and massive infrastructure spend, this will soon change. “The argument for the high cost of installation is that once set-up on a solar system and allowing for recouping of your initial investment, the energy is basically free,” says van Heerden. “Once installed, the maintenance on a solar system is also negligible and will cost you very little over a period of 20-30 years.”

From a large building or corporate perspective, a major drawback to solar energy usage is the current technology available in photovoltaic (PV) array panels. The amount of panels you are able to arrange on a building is dependent on the amount of space available on the rooftop. In many instances there isn’t adequate roof space to generate a meaningful percentage of the overall load. “As with any technology, PV array panels are improving in terms of how much power is available from an individual panel. The power density of the panels needs to improve to ensure higher watts per square meter of panel,” continues van Heerden.

Renewable Energy for South Africa’s Future

Renewable energy will ultimately become part of the mix of power options in South Africa in the future. As an industry in the making, this new sector will also provide job opportunities and skills development in South Africa, further encourage foreign investment and reduce our dependence on coal.

Apart from the apparent cost savings in the long run, when crossing over to an alternative energy source there is a major environmental benefit with one more family, institution or company contributing to the reduction of global warming.

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