21 August 2009: Energy security, Spain and South Africa

Spain and South Africa both have lots of coal, but no significant oil or gas. Yet their responses to the energy security issues this raises have been dramatically different. In Spain, governments have ambitiously promoted wind and solar energy (see Spanish energy policies). In South Africa, the government has connected 80% of all residents to the electricity grid – one if the ANC’s great achievements since coming to power – but has ignored renewables (see South Africa and climate change).

Spain has the second largest installed solar capacity, after Germany, and the third largest installed wind capacity, after the US and Germany (see Spain – climate and energy statistics). It installed over 2.5Gw of solar in 2008, although the government then altered the regime and reduced the subsidy. In addition, Spain is particularly hard hit by the current recession, so the 2009 expansion will be much lower.

In South Africa, economic development and connection of millions more to the grid have caused major increases in demand for electricity – a trend increased by some of the world’s lowest electricity prices. Like Spain, South Africa has no shortage of sunlight or space for wind turbines. However, there is very little installed solar photovoltaic or wind capacity (see South Africa – climate and energy statistics). There is slightly more solar thermal, which is used for heating water. However, this is often used to heat swimming pools, which is hardly an essential use.

It is quite understandable that, in the immediate post-apartheid era, climate change was not top of the ANC’s agenda. However, Africans are already being seriously affected by climate change and will be even more so if it is not controlled. Yet, South Africa could be self-sufficient in clean energy. The Sustainable Energy Society Southern Africa is working to achieve this, and some politicians are addressing the issues. In July 2009, the South African Cities Network met to promote biogas from sewage (see Biofuels), which would address energy issues and the increasing need for ways to deal with sewage, as more people get connected to the sewage system.

Therefore, let’s hope that President Zuma and the national government now harness the enormous renewable power available to South Africa.

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