Guiding nation's optimum adoption of bioenergy

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor says she supports South Africa's transition to renewable energy. (Photo courtesy DST)

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor says she supports South Africa's transition to renewable energy. (Photo courtesy DST)

The global need to move to cleaner and more sustainable energy systems means that we should continuously evaluate various energy feedstock and generation pathways for heat, power and transport fuels. These include bioenergy-based options (bioenergy is renewable energy made available from biological materials such as wood or manure).

According to the REN21 (Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century) Global Status Report, bioenergy accounts for roughly 10% of the world’s primary energy supply, and has remained at about this level since 2005. In developing countries, most bioenergy is consumed inefficiently when used for cooking and heating, and poses health hazards that include smoke inhalation.
However, in most developed economies, bioenergy has been incorporated into modern energy services and is a significant contributor to the energy industry, and thus to the bio-economy.

As South Africa formalises the establishment of the bioenergy industry, the principles of inclusivity, addressing energy poverty and stimulating economic opportunities are among the key driving factors, as government continues exploring ways of providing energy to communities currently not receiving such services. This is in line with the department of science and technology’s commitment of living up to its mandate, to use science and technology to improve the country’s economy, create employment and improve the quality of life of all citizens. The department’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan is part of the vision of the National Development Plan to tackle the interlinked challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

The web-based Bioenergy Atlas will assist government by making available information on potential energy resources, their geographic spread, their proximity to infrastructure, and potential end-users. This decision-support tool is expected to guide energy planning and investments, as well as the deployment of bioenergy-based technologies, including the co-firing of biomass, the use of residues to produce biofuels, and bio-digesters for domestic energy needs.

The many requests for Bioenergy Atlas data by various players (policymakers, power utilities, industry and academia) in the national system of innovation during the development of the atlas have been encouraging, and government looks forward to its wider application.

The Bioenergy Atlas preliminary assessments (based on potential contributions by subsistence farmers, municipal organic waste, wastewater treatment works, agriculture, forestry residues, etcetera) indicate significant potential in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo.

Development of a bioenergy industry could have a significant impact on job creation (seasonal and permanent) and improve energy access.

The bioenergy sector will be supported within a policy framework that ensures that bioenergy-based socioeconomic development does not compromise food security, biodiversity or water security, and that will guide future energy infrastructure installations for both central and distributed generation.

My department is very pleased to contribute to South Africa’s transition to renewable energy, and will continue to support research to improve the competitiveness of local innovations in this sector.

Naledi Pandor is the Minister of Science and Technology

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