An interesting evening in Wendywood, the Green Drinks event held at the Food & Trees for Africa headquarters (fondly known as the Khaya) was met by an all too well known phenomenon in South Africa, scheduled load shedding. That did not stop the event from continuing as planned or dampen the mood as there were cheerful smiles and friendly faces that could be seen with the flickering candlelight.
Green Drinks, which takes place on the third Thursday of every month, seeks to provide a comfortable setting where keynote speakers come to share important information about issues pertaining to enviro-climatic changes; and human cause and effects to the audience. This event held on the 16th of July had the honour and delight of hosting Johan van den Berg, CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) and a long term environmental mediator.
This evening provided an interesting perspective to sustainable thinking and the notion of green energy. The economic and financial implications of being a coal dominated power producing country meant the production of electricity was not only dependant on a non-renewable resource that is sure to become depleted, but it is dependent on the mining sector and the working condition of the coal power station infrastructure (of which recently proves an issue and forsaking South Africa to predictable cycles of darkness… load shedding eish!).
Johan’s presentation had a large numerical focus as one sometimes forgets when dealing with environmental issues, every issue needs to be thought of in an economic context. This allows for the feasibility to be pondered upon by governments and large corporations. He provided comparative figures for the start up and running of wind farms in suitable areas (as South African wind trends and topography only provide discrete suitable areas especially in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal). These figures proved wind energy to be cheaper to produce therefore cheaper for Eskom to purchase and cheaper to distribute to users once in the national grid. But why aren’t wind farms more widespread since we have the land to do so and wind energy being a freely available resource with little environmental and financial implications?
South Africa has recently joined the renewable energy club which had aimed to produce 10 000 GWh of renewable energy sourced electricity in 2013. It had not met these targets due to various factors including the difficulty and a lack of interest of starting up renewable energy infrastructure such as wind farms, hydropower dams etc. Africa’s biggest wind farm is currently located in Jeffrey’s Bay in Eastern Cape and is currently still under construction to provide over 200 000 homes with electricity. Johan provided a good argument for considering the significance of wind as a power source in South Africa. South Africa is dealing with a major energy crisis at the moment due to our heavy reliance on coal powered stations meaning little has been done to invest in alternative power sources. The current state of our power stations, coupled with the labour strikes has made load shedding a South African staple, so the general South African needs to sit up and ask: “Since coal-power stations are giving us so much hassle, and not forgetting that coal pollutes my air and will eventually run out anyway… why don’t we invest in renewable electricity production?”
Any sustainable proposal requires an in depth scrutiny as to not only ensure it stays within certain parameters to ensure the safekeeping of the environment whilst being efficient. Some scrutiny however gives rise to a list of misconceptions. There are many misconceptions associated with wind power and wind farms that Johan discussed briefly. The one that receives most attention is the wind farms being responsible for killing a large proportion of birds and bats whose migration and flight paths pass the wind farms. This hasn’t been definitely proven to be a significant influencer of bird and bat populations, but there is a link due to 50 metre blades rotating several metres in the air could potentially knock out birds and bats from the sky. Johan mentioned the significance of wind turbine related deaths being negligible as there are other anthropogenic issues that affect natural bird and populations. Another misconception is that pertaining to the inability of wind to provide enough power to the national grid. European countries have large wind farms and wind farms collectively produce more than 15% of the power. All South Africa has to do is build more wind farms. Renewable energy is the next frontier; it is the next step that needs to be taken up by society and the global community.
Renewable energy is promoted by the African Climate Reality Project (ACRP) as an essential to a success at this year’s COP21 meet in Paris later this year. Climate stability is dependent on the ability of humans to adapt to new ways of producing energy, goods and the overall sustenance of the global economy. We can no longer take from the earth and dump the waste we have not used back. An efficiency in the usage of all the natural resources we have been provided with coupled with sound monitoring can allow humans to exist on this planet without eroding its reserves and polluting it. We have wind, let us feel it beneath SA’s wings.
By Kgothatso Skosana
Kgothatso Skosana is a Pretoria born 3rdyear Bsc student at Wits university who is passionate about sustainability, earth conservation sciences, human psychology, television and his favourite vegetable, cheese.