Greening Polokwane

A short while back I listened to Eskom’s boss, Jacob Maroga, field questions on greener energy options for South Africa. While he likes the idea he, correctly in my view, does not think that it should be Eskom’s job to play the lead role here.

If you spend time speaking to experts and players in this sector you’ll find that there is no shortage of people with good ideas on how to move the country away from fossils to renewables.

Our issue is that we have no one pulling it all together, working on a coordinated plan to harness and prioritise all of these good ideas. We need an energy champion, specifically a green energy champion, to promote solar and other renewables, facilitate competition, encourage efficiency and bring in a fiscal framework that will allow new technologies to compete with the old.

In an age of global warming, sharply escalating energy costs and resource depletion the job could not be more important.

It carries the responsibility of spending in excess of R1-trillion on new energy capacity. The job is so important that, put in Cabinet terms, it is arguably as important as finance and should go to a political heavy hitter.

Energy and environment should be consolidated into a single portfolio from minerals and energy and environment affairs and tourism. Minerals and tourism should be in separate portfolios.

A few weeks back the United States’s green energy champion, Barack Obama, outlined his plan. In truth his rival, John McCain, has won praise from Bill Clinton for his energy policies, but let me deal with Obama’s plan here.

In an eight-page document Obama details targets and timelines to ease the dependence of the economy on oil. Obama describes this dependence as the greatest challenge “we have ever faced. It’s a threat to our national security, our planet and our economy.”

To give a flavour of the plan, it calls for short-term relief for US families at the pump, creating five million green jobs through investing $150-billion over five years, putting one million hybrids on the roads by 2015, ensuring that 10% of electricity is renewable by 2012 and introducing economy-wide cap and trade mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emission by 2050.

There is much to debate or argue with, but the best thing about the plan is that it exists with clear timetables and targets.

I asked Shaun Vorster at the department of environmental affairs and tourism if we have such a document. I was referred to the department website. There is a high-level document, which has Cabinet approval, that agrees to a broad strategy to reduce emissions, including through what is called cap and trade, set limits on carbon emissions and allow companies that exceed these limits to buy credits on the carbon markets.

But there was no detail on when and how a coordinated strategy could work à la Obama. Vorster pointed me to another document, a Powerpoint, which can also be found under media statements on the website.

This is the Obama-equivalent document. It models how a large number of interventions can be used by the country to combat climate change. These include carbon taxes, switching to clean coal, nuclear and renewables, encouraging building efficiency, using carbon capture and storage, improving vehicle efficiency, promoting electric vehicles and hybrids, using solar for hot water, introducing biofuels, changing transport ­passenger nodes and sponsoring afforestation.

It emphasises that mitigation is urgent: just a five- or 10-year delay can increase the chances of the world warming by two degrees.

I asked minerals and energy if government had an all-embracing green energy policy position like Obama’s. No one had a ready answer but after some consultation Sandile Tyatya, who heads renewables, told me that the department is working on a framework document to this end.

A first draft has been produced, the aim being for a draft to be produced by the end of the month. Tyatya said the framework document is to ensure the implementation of the renewable energy strategy. “Our focus is on the implementation of the renewable energy White Paper as it outlines a number of clean energy ­technologies.”

I put it to Vorster that the Powerpoint document is a little tucked away. I wanted to know if it has buy-in from the other government departments, not to mention the ANC’s real centre of power, Luthuli House.
Vortser said that the long-term migration scenarios did groundbreaking work. “I firmly believe we have succeeded in pulling it all together at a technical and political level. He referred to the ANC declaration on climate change agreed to at Polokwane.

A reading of the declaration suggests he is right. It contains all the buttons to move energy policy to a greener footing. This includes putting a price on carbon emissions, emphasising energy efficiency, ­moving to solar and other renewables, exploring the use of carbon storage and implementing a feed-in tariff for parties supplying clean energy to the grid.

What it lacks, though, as contained in the Obama document, is a prioritised timetable.

Vortser said that “now it is over to implementation, which is something Obama will still face if he is elected and has to convert his intentions into an ambitious government plan as we have already done”.

Obama may or may not win. If he does he will assume the mantle of green champion or appoint someone to the role: who will play this role in South Africa?

Energy and the dti
Trade and industry’s Nimrod Zalk says that government is responsible for policies that address a range of interlocking socio-economic challenges, including poverty, unemployment, growth and the environment.
“Government has to weigh up these various objectives continually. In some cases they can be mutually reinforcing and in others decisions have to be made about trade-offs between objectives.

“Government’s overall carbon reduction commitments have been set out supported by changes to the tax code.”

Zalk says that industrial policy will in future promote less energy and capital intensive activities than in the past, favouring labour-intensive and value-adding activities.

One of the criteria (for new investments) will be their relative use of scarce resources, especially energy and water.

Zalk says that the Trade and Industry Department is working with other government departments to promote the manufacturing of energy-saving devices such as solar water heaters and CFL lighting.

He says the department is finalising the successor to the Motor Industry Development Programme. “As part of its investment promotion efforts the department will aggressively seek to promote the attraction of energy-efficient technologies to South Africa, such as the production of hybrids as well as components related to cleaner emissions.” The department and minerals and energy department will also work together to strengthen emission standards.

Kevin Davie

Kevin Davie

Kevin Davie is M&G's business editor. A journalist for more than 30 years, he has worked in senior positions at most major titles in the country. Davie is a Nieman Fellow (1995-1996) and cyberspace innovator, having co-founded SA's first online-only news portal, Woza, and the first online stockbroking operation. He is a lecturer at Wits Journalism. In his spare time he can be found riding a bicycle, usually somewhere remote. Read more from Kevin Davie


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