New bioenergy atlas heralds South Africa's energy generation future

Populations will benefit from seasonal job creation in the biomass cultivation and harvesting sectors.

Populations will benefit from seasonal job creation in the biomass cultivation and harvesting sectors.

South Africa’s first bioenergy atlas has been hailed as a positive step towards transforming the country into a low carbon and future clean energy hub in Africa, while simultaneously creating jobs.

The department of science and technology has launched the Bioenergy Atlas of South Africa to provide information on potential bioenergy resources and their geographic spread, proximity to infrastructure and socioeconomic impact, as well as relevant conversion technologies and feasible end-use applications.

Unlike energy sources that are generated through fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, renewable energy is a clean energy source that can contribute approximately 3 500MW of electricity equivalent to the national energy mix over the planning horizon of 20 years.

Together with the Wind Energy Atlas of the department of energy, the Carbon Sinks Atlas of the department of environmental affairs and the Renewable Energy Toolkit as developed by Promethium Carbon to guide project development on mine-impacted land, the energy atlas is set to play an important role in establishing this low carbon future.

Preliminary assessments, based on potential contributions by subsistence farmers, municipal organic waste, wastewater treatment works, agriculture and forestry residues, among others, indicate significant potential in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo. Most importantly, the development of a bioenergy industry could have a significant impact on job creation, seasonal and permanent, while improving access to energy.

As a resource fully exploited, the potential impact with respect to energy access is estimated at 864 000 people and job creation potential of at least 125 000, including seasonal jobs.

The atlas projections of a percentage of the low-income population that can benefit from access to energy is 17% in the Eastern Cape (125 000 people), 34% in Kwa-Zulu Natal (365 000 people), 34% in Limpopo (268 000 people), and 22% in North West (106 000 people). 

In addition, populations may benefit from seasonal job creation in the biomass cultivation or harvesting sectors; as many as 60 000 jobs in the Eastern Cape, 35 000 in KwaZulu-Natal, and 30 000 in Limpopo. 

The estimates of manufacturing and processing jobs in the major rural areas are approximately 2 000 jobs in the Eastern Cape, 700 jobs in KwaZulu-Natal and 300 jobs in Limpopo. 

Head of the Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme in the department of energy, Karen Breytenbach, says the tool will help increase public participation and opportunities available in bioenergy in the country.

“We need to ensure that our communities are fully aware of the benefits and that they are ready to use these available opportunities in renewable energy,” says Breytenbach.

She makes an example of the world-class Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which since its establishment in 2011, had created private investment in the energy sector worth about R200-billion by the end of 2015, and will lead to local communities receiving R29-billion for the 20-year period of the IPP life span.

“A total of R20-billion has already been committed to socioeconomic development initiatives in communities hosting renewable energy projects. Over seven billion has been structured through the establishment of community trust,” she says.

Chairman of South Africa Independent Power Producer Association (SAIPPA) Thomas Garner has also welcomed the bioenergy atlas, saying it sets the stage for South Africa’s transformation into a low carbon, renewable energy future.

“Mega trends determining our future are the impact of climate change, the development of technology at an increased pace according to Moore’s law, and changing demographics worldwide.”

He also agrees that the bioenergy has the potential to create more jobs for South Africans and should be incorporated into modern energy services as a significant contributor to the energy industry and the bio-economy.

“Of utmost importance are the principles of inclusivity, addressing energy poverty and stimulating economic opportunities in our drive to provide energy to communities currently not receiving such services,” says Garner

SAIPPA and its members plan to use the Atlas to develop new, distributed energy projects which will positively impact local content, job creation, black ownership, management and control.

Garner also commends the DST for its efforts to contribute to the country’s transition to renewable energy and to formalise the establishment of the bio-energy industry.

“South African carbon sink stocks are located 80% in natural systems and 94% of it is in the soil. The development of the bioenergy industry will improve this situation by impacting cultivation of energy crops without negatively impacting food and water security.”

While government planning had not considered biomass as a significant future contributor to energy, the atlas shows the potential exists in bioenergy to assist in meeting future clean energy demands.

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