By Leon Louw

With the move away from fossil fuels, the use of solar photovoltaic devices is becoming more popular. Solar PV’s is an extremely efficient way of generating renewable energy.

With many African countries struggling to keep up with the energy consumption demands of its citizens, the argument for a move away from unreliable coal-fired power stations has never been greater. This has left many African countries scrambling to adopt more integrated energy supply and demand systems across the board, with smart technologies, partnering with Independent Power Producers (IPPs), rigorous planning and holistic decision-making.

According to Dr Jarrad Wright, principle researcher at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and a speaker the upcoming Solar Power Africa event, solar PV’s can play a valuable role in alleviating the South African electricity crisis whether via utility-scale or distributed investments in solar PV and other technologies.

Wright explains that through this, the African region would be able to ensure sufficient supply to meet the every-increasing energy demands. “This is where solar PV would need to play a significant role, considering the lead-time for investment, availability of favourable financing, economics of the technology and it’s ability scale up and down,” says Wright.

He points out though that to solve Africa’s energy challenges, one need to look beyond just the technology to meet the demand. “Key to solving the energy crisis is ensuring that enabling policies are developed and there is a focused and committed approach to implementation of projects,” says Wright.

While steps have been taken, like that of the South African Department of Energy gazetting new regulations outlining their commitment to sourcing over 11 800 MW of power for Independent Power Producers (IPPs) over the next few years, there have also been calls towards giving greater independence to municipalities to produce or procure power directly from IPPs.

In May of this year, draft amendments to the Electricity Regulations Act on New Generation Capacity were published proposing a conducive regulatory framework to allow this to happen for municipalities that have a good financial standing. At the time, however, greater clarification was needed – something that both municipalities like the City of Cape Town as well as industry players like South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) sought clarity on.

With bouts of loadshedding and Eskom being unable to keep up with the demand, major municipalities like the City of Cape Town have argued for municipalities to have the authority to produce or procure its own power.

This action was noted by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who in his recent address on his Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan said that applications for own-use generation projects are being fast-tracked.

The efforts are slowly starting to yield results, at least for municipalities like the City of Cape Town and the City of Ekurhuleni who would potentially be able to go ahead subject to the municipalities complying with various requirements and receiving approval from the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy based on recent court rulings.

According to Nhlanhla Ngidi, head of Energy and Electricity at SALGA and a speaker at the upcoming Solar Power Africa, says that as far as the choice for renewable energy sources go, Solar Photovoltaic (PV) energy is a no brainer. According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2020, the world’s best solar power schemes now offer the cheapest electricity in history.

“Over the last two decades, solar PV costs have become significantly cheaper thanks to infrastructure and equipment costs going down, technologies improving and governments across the world boosting clean-power targets as they seek to combat climate change,” says Ngidi.

A report published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) recently details the numerous benefits that renewables have for cities, from cleaner air, improved living spaces and an increase in modern services.

The report acknowledge that most cities are largely bound by national frameworks and infrastructure systems. But it highlighted what we are seeing in South Africa – through effective cooperation and coordination of policies and initiatives between different levels of governance it can enable change at the local level. The results can lead to the unlocking of finance, capacity building and technical support, data, as well as supporting the creation of new mandates to accelerate the transition to a sustainable energy future.

“Should the fast-tracking of the current amendments to the Electricity Regulations Act on New Generation Capacity succeed and a greater adoption by government of the value that municipalities can provide in support the countries energy goals, countries like South Africa and its African counterparts that follow the same path will have a much brighter future,” says Ngidi.

Focusing on enhancing the uptake and localisation of solar PV, Dr Wright and Ngidi will be speakers at the virtual Solar Power Africa event, which is taking place this week from 16 – 20 November 2020.

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