Energy crisis: High time for S


Energy crisis: High time for South Africa to tap into renewable sources

Renewed calls for alternative energy sources as experts warn of severe economic impact of load shedding.

Energy crisis: High time for S


South Africa is, once again, left in the dark with load shedding implemented by Eskom and economists have stated that these power outages will only worsen an already struggling economy.

More than ten years since the first power problems surfaced, experts say it has become increasingly important for government to look into alternative energy sources.

Harness power of the sun with solar energy

South Africa receives an average of 2 500 hours of sunlight each year, making it one of the sunniest countries globally. This does not only make for excellent beach days along the coast, but also the possibility of a safe, renewable energy source.

Solar radiation can be harnessed in two ways: thermal or electrical energy.

Electricity generation uses photovoltaic cells to generate a small electric voltage when light hits the junction between a semiconductor and a metal. Scientists are yet to create photovoltaic cells that have an energy-efficiency of more than 20%, making it a costly way to produce mass amounts of energy. Thermal energy, however, is commonly used for solar heating applications.

In South Africa, geysers make up 39% of middle-income household electricity usage. Utilising solar thermal energy for the application that takes up most of the average household’s electricity usage, may lighten the load for the coal power industry.

Let winds of change blow with wind energy

Those who live along the coastal regions of the Western and Eastern Cape will agree that South Africa should make use of its strong winds for reasons other than attracting kitesurfers. According to the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), the first wind farm was established in 2008 in Darling, and since then, 24 more facilities have been added.

Another sustainable energy resource, wind power captures kinetic energy and turns it into electricity with the help of a generator.

It is one of the cheapest resources of renewable energy, costing between four and six cents per kilowatt per hour.

Wind power will not be influenced by foreign interventions, and in 2014, the wind power industry employed more than 73 000 workers in the United States.This makes it an attractive industry for a country with an unemployment figure of 29.1%, according to TradingEconomics.

Not surprisingly, however, the wind power industry has been slowed down by Eskom’s reluctance to sign more contracts with independent power producers as stated by ESI-Africa.

The nuclear energy conundrum

Nuclear power is nothing new for South Africa, having installed its first commercial nuclear plant in 1984 at Koeberg near Cape Town. Nuclear energy has been met with controversy following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Russia, but for a country with limited funds for costly, renewable energy, nuclear power may be the best possible option.

According to the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR), nuclear energy presides in the core of an atom. It can be extracted into electricity in two ways: nuclear fusion and nuclear fission. Nuclear power plants use nuclear fission to split atoms into smaller atoms, releasing the energy.

Generating nuclear electricity is cheaper than both coal and renewable energy sources. It also generates electricity with no carbon output, making it attractive for environmentalists. Nuclear energy delivers a stable baseload of electricity, not dependent on factors like the sun shining or the wind blowing.