Metros wake up to energy shifts

Ener-G Systems is capturing landfill gas at Johannesburg's Robinson Deep dump site. (Gustav Butlex, M&G)

Ener-G Systems is capturing landfill gas at Johannesburg's Robinson Deep dump site. (Gustav Butlex, M&G)

Municipalities should be leading the charge for energy efficiency and renewable sources, but they remain reliant on levies added to the electricity price to fund day-to-day services.

South Africa is the 12th-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world, largely because of its abundant coal reserves and dependence on it to produce electricity.

According to the Sustainable Energy Africa 2015 report on the use of energy in South African cities, the metros have a major role to play in reducing global emissions.

Urban populations are forecast to reach 70% of the national total by 2030 and 80% by 2050. In 2012, about 64% of the population lived in urban areas.

The report examined the sustainable energy development of 18 cities that are home to about half of South Africa’s population but occupy only 4.5% of the country’s land area.

“They account for over a third of national energy consumption and half of the country’s petrol and diesel consumption, and produce some 70% of the country’s economic wealth,” the report says.

“These dense urban centres therefore have a fundamental role to play in the development of our country … Cities need to be in a position to respond proactively to the impact of climate change, which means moving towards sustainable energy.”

Per capita emissions
The municipalities in the study involved eight metros (including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Tshwane, eThekwini, Buffalo City and Mangaung), seven secondary cities (including George, Rustenburg and Mbombela) and three smaller towns (including Saldanha Bay and KwaDukuza).

Per capita emissions in South African cities are high relative to their level of development, the report says.

In Johannesburg, the emissions per capita are 6.4 tonnes, in Cape Town 7.8 tonnes and in eThekwini 7.7. This is high in comparison with 1.4 tonnes per capita in São Paulo or 4.9 in Tokyo, but less that New York’s 10.5 and Shanghai’s 11.7 tonnes.

For South Africa overall, “in metros, the average energy-related emissions is six tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per person, which is on a par with cities such as Paris, London or Berlin that have larger populations and higher levels of development”, the report says.

“However, in other secondary cities and smaller towns, the per capita carbon emissions range between one and 3.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is relatively low by global standards and closer to the global fair share of two tonnes of carbon dioxide per person.”

Transport, the report found, is responsible for at least half of South Africa’s total energy use in urban areas, and about one-third of urban greenhouse gas emission.

Municipalities have a number of potential renewable resources at their disposable.

Awareness of this has resulted in several small-scale projects, some planned and others already being implemented.

“Centralised electricity planning has meant that renewable energy and the generation thereof has generally not been the focus of local government in South Africa,” the report states.

“However, this is changing as a result of the recent international renewable energy price decreases, local electricity price rises, climate change pressures and the confidence instilled by the national renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme, one of the largest in the world.”

The city of Johannesburg plans to generate 18MW of electricity from its Robinson Deep dump site. (Gustav Butlex, M&G)

Ekurhuleni metro has budget allocations for an additional one megawatt (MW) a year for electricity generated by landfill gas. Johannesburg has plans to use landfill gas to generate 18MW (enough to power 25 000 middle-income homes). The municipality also aims to increase the use of its waste­water gas to produce 4.5MW of electricity.

Tshwane expects its biogas project, with the Beefcor feedlot in Bronkhorstspruit as the power source and with a generation capacity of 4MW, to come into operation this year.

A 1.8MW wind power project at Coega, supported by a municipal power purchase agreement, is also cited by the report.

Private generation
There has been a steep drop in the price of installing private rooftop solar panels and the cost of the electricity generated from these systems is approaching domestic and commercial electricity tariffs.

It also provides homeowners with a way to reduce their electricity bill and supplement their consumption.

“For large-scale electricity generation, municipalities must apply for a generation licence,” the report states. “In light of Eskom’s outages, own generation is perhaps a way forward for cities.”

But income from electricity distribution is a key contributor to municipal revenue, without which municipalities will not be able to meet their obligations.

“In order to avert the potential adverse impact on municipal revenue, appropriate tariffs will need to be developed,” the report says.

It found that the energy and emission profiles of South Africa’s largest cities have begun to shift, although it is unlikely that it is as a result of the municipalities’ efforts.

Economic growth
Between 2004 and 2011, the metros’ economy grew by an average annual rate of 4.2% and energy consumption grew by 1.8%. At a national level, energy consumption declined by an average annual rate of 0.1% and the economy grew by an average annual of 3.6%, according to the report.

“Sustainable energy interventions could only account for a small proportion of this trend … Therefore, the likelihood is that price increases and the electricity supply crisis have been stronger drivers in this trend,” the report says.

An independent power consultant, Doug Kuni, said in an interview in January that there was a direct correlation between economic growth and the number of kilowatt hours sold.

“If you are taking electricity out of the economy, you are contracting the economy and that means loss of money and loss of jobs,” Kuni said.

The report says energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and most direct way of addressing climate change, high electricity costs and the electricity supply constraints facing the country.

Inherent tension
Again, for municipalities, there is an inherent tension between generating income from electricity sales and being an efficient energy service provider.

“Local government’s own operations may account for only about 2% of total municipal electricity consumption but are a potential gold mine for efficiency implementation,” the report says, noting that the energy efficiency of streetlights, traffic lights, water pumps and buildings can be readily improved, resulting in savings of more than R10-million a year for many municipalities.

Using 2014 data from the South African Cities Network, the report says Cape Town could save R13.2-million a year on street lighting alone and eThekwini R25.9-million. Johannesburg could save an estimated R21.3-million on bulk water supply and wastewater treatment.

“Sustainable energy development is challenging as it does not speak directly to the immediate needs and priorities of residents,” the report says.

“The economic benefits, through greater efficiency and (in the medium to longer term) cheaper energy sources, are not instantaneous. Therefore, the transition to sustainable energy requires a high degree of leadership, innovation and partnership …

“This vision must go beyond short-term municipal budget constraints, immediate consumer wants and short-sighted political agendas.”

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn

Lisa Steyn is a business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She holds a master's degree in journalism and media studies from Wits University. Her areas of interest range from energy and mining to financial services and telecommunication. When she is not poring over annual reports, Lisa can usually be found pottering about the kitchen. Read more from Lisa Steyn


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