The world experienced its largest increase in green, renewable energy in 2015, adding over 147 gigawatts of wind, solar and other alternative energy power to the global grid, according to the Renewables 2016 Global Status Report, released on 1 June by the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, or REN21.
South Africa is one of the stand-out green nations, making remarkable strides in renewable energy, says Christine Lins, the REN21 executive secretary.
According to the report, the $1-billion (about R15.6-billion today) investment in African renewable energy initiatives in 2004 increased to more than $12-billion in 2015/16, a growth of 58%, thanks in large part to projects begun in South Africa.
South Africa was the first country on the continent to produce a gigawatt from solar power, and its contribution to wind power generation had pushed Africa’s output to more than 3 gigawatts.
Global investment in renewable energy is driven, the report states, by being both cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels and a dynamic job creator in several countries, particularly in Africa.
“Renewable generation has created 60 000 jobs in Africa, and of those, half are in South Africa,” says Lins. This boost has been driven mainly by South Africa’s successful Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme.
The programme is projected to attract another $35-billion by 2020, according to data compiled by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
The REN21 report confirms that governments are still key in driving renewables as a legitimate power alternative.
While 173 countries are meeting renewable energy targets in 2016, with South Africa especially making up ground in utility-scale renewable generation, a challenge still remains in effectively using residential energy production.
As has become the norm in Europe and North America, households that generate their own electricity through solar or wind power are encouraged to sell electricity back to local and national utility operations.
South Africa has the infrastructure and know-how to incentivise individual power generation to help bring renewable energy to more people, in turn lessening the reliance on fossil fuels.
The boost in South Africa’s renewable energy profile, fuelled by larger and better-performing energy solutions with the full support of the government and private enterprise is “truly remarkable”, says Lins, “(particularly when) achieved at a time when fossil fuel prices were at historic lows, and renewables remained at a
significant disadvantage in terms of government subsidies”.