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COP 17 offers SA golden ray of opportunity to take lead in renewable energy race

21 November 2011 - With a massive global audience, the upcoming 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP 17) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the perfect stage for South Africa to address its high carbon emission status, as well as position itself as a leader in renewable energies among emerging economies.

This is according to Björn Meth, Sales Director for South Africa at DuPont, who says that South Africa needs to clarify its stance on green energy sources such as solar and wind in order to positively affect climate change in the African region.

“South Africa is currently too heavily dependent on fossil fuels which are expensive to operate and finite in supply. It is crucial going forward that the country is less dependent on energy sources such as coal in particular,” says Meth.

According to Greenpeace, 90% of South Africa’s electricity supply is coal-powered, making it the biggest carbon dioxide (CO2) emitter in Africa and ranking it as the 12th largest in the world.

“From a solar energy perspective alone, South Africa is in an extremely favourable position thanks to an abundance of sun and space available countrywide, which is perfect for the creation of large scale solar energy ‘car parks’.

“In addition, weather conditions, especially in the Cape region, are also conducive to fostering wind-generated energy, indicating that the country’s climate is perfect to develop and produce both solar and wind-powered renewable energy.”

Meth says that South Africa also has significant benefits over other emerging economies such as excellent skills, advanced industries, an ideal infrastructure and its position as the gateway of business development on the continent.

He adds that South Africa also needs to set more ambitious, but achievable renewable energy targets going forward. “Current projections are much too low and the country needs to aim for higher targets of electricity supply from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2030.” According to a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), it is feasible that 50% of South Africa's electricity generation could come from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Meth explains that many developed countries, such as Germany, have already made transitions into solar and wind-based power sources, whereby 20% of their energy already stems from renewable sources. “If European nations, who have significantly less sunlight and natural space are already making significant renewable energy strides, why can’t South Africa?”

He says the South African government has a good track record of collaborating with the private sector in developing local infrastructure. “This philosophy needs to be extended to renewable energy and recent developments such as government’s announcement of a R800 million fund for renewable energy projects is an extremely positive move.

“A potential next step could be the introduction of legislation that encourages the development and use of renewable energy resources, as well as subsidising the costs for research and development of solar and wind power generator infrastructure. This has worked particularly well in other emerging countries.

“Until recently the transition to renewable energy was viewed as an economic cost. However, in the last few years it is being increasingly seen as an opportunity to foster a more secure, labour intensive and sustainable economy and society,” concludes Meth.

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