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Umbrella body becomes SA's voice on renewable energy

Staff Reporter

South Africa will launch an umbrella body to act as a single voice championing the importance and relevance of renewable energy in the country.

Four leading renewable energy associations have announced their intention to launch an umbrella body to act as a single voice championing the importance and relevance of the renewable energy industry in South Africa.

The announcement comes in the wake of the Green Economy Accord recently concluded through a series of engagements among government, business, labour and community at Nedlac.

This accord envisages aggressively addressing climate change concerns and the need to grow the South African economy by simultaneously stimulating the green economy and creating “green jobs”.

“Creating a united voice for renewable energy custodians is imperative at this juncture in the development of the industry,” said Pancho Ndebele, chair of the South African Solar Thermal Industry Association (Sastela).

“Both private sector and NGOs have for many years been promoting renewable energy in an uncertain regulatory environment. These efforts were never fully coordinated and it took time to get to where we are today, on the verge of exponential growth in the broader renewable energy industry. As signatories to the Green Economy Accord we have now taken steps to discharge the obligations we have undertaken, one of which was the creation of an umbrella body.”

The four proponent organisations indicate that the umbrella body will provisionally be called the South African Renewable Energy Council and will act as custodian of an industry in which government has placed considerable attention and trust. Other founding participants in establishing this council are the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa (Sessa), the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (Sapvia) and the South African Wind Energy Association (Sawea).

Considerable ambition
“The members of Sessa are responsible for the bulk of development occurring in the installation of solar water heaters, one of the major focal areas of the Green Economy Accord,” said Jason Schaffler, the body’s secretary.

“The Accord’s ambition is considerable, aiming to roll out a million units by as early as 2014. The creation of the Renewable Energy Council will facilitate policy alignment between this field of very large volumes and small capital investments per site with grid connected renewable energy where there the converse situation exists—few projects with very high capital investment per site.”

Chris Haw, chair of Sapvia, highlighted the very pleasing inclusion in the accord of a rooftop solar PV programme that he believes can dovetail with large, grid-connected PV energy plants to create jobs, raise skills levels and increase local content.

“Government’s approach to the twin problems of climate change and unemployment is visionary and should be commended,” he said.

“Through the Renewable Energy Council we have the opportunity to share ideas with like-minded people. We could engage government swiftly and in a unified, coordinated fashion. The regulatory framework is developing rapidly at present and we need a custodian for the industry. The Council will be able to satisfy this need.”

It is envisioned that other partners will be added to the council in the coming months. “There are a variety of stakeholders that will be looked toward for participation including key government partners,” explained Johan van den Berg, CEO of Sawea.

Policy debate
“Several NGOs have considerable expertise in renewable energy and have been instrumental in moving the policy debate to where it is now. There are also other renewable technologies that have industry bodies or the beginnings thereof. We will strive to be as inclusive as possible. The idea is not to create an over-arching industry body but rather to create an over-arching renewable energy custodian.”

Mark Gordon, special advisor on climate change and energy in the environmental affairs department, welcomed the initiative. “Institutional strengthening has emerged as a key challenge in building the renewable energy industry,” he said.

“There is a range of important and dynamic policy debates occurring in parallel, including the National Climate Change Response Strategy, the Integrated Resource Plan for electricity, the Green Economy Accord, the New Growth Plan and the debate around a carbon tax and carbon budget, to name a few. It is imperative that the renewable energy industry should be organised, involved and quick to react to ensure that these debates are balanced and well informed.”

Laurainne Lotter, overall business convenor for Nedlac, emphasised that the success of a new industry in South Africa, like the renewable energy sector, requires strong partnerships.

“The Green Economy Accord is a demonstration of an initial partnership in respect of green industries and the council is the implementation of one of the agreements in the accord, which relates to the renewable energy sector,” she said.

Reviving manufacturing
At the Nedlac meetings, the Congress of South African Trade Unions supported the initiative in the belief that the Green Economy Accord together with the Procurement Accord could re-catalyse and significantly contribute towards reviving South Africa’s ailing manufacturing sector.

Ndebele congratulated the energy department on releasing the names of the first 28 preferred bidders in Government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme.

“Over 100-million was posted in bid bonds,” he said. “This demonstrated the sophistication and commitment of the private sector to supply renewable energy.” He concluded by stressing that a Renewable Energy Council would facilitate increased dialogue between Government and industry.

A steering committee has been established for the council and it will target financial and technical assistance from multilateral institutions. It is expected the South African Renewable Energy Council will be fully operational by mid-2012.—I-Net Bridge

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