Top marks for SA energy policies

South Africa’s energy policies were
praised in the recently published World
Energy and Climate Policy assessment.
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• Stephan Albrechtskirchinger
World Energy Council
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The World Energy Council (WEC) has commended South Africa for the effectiveness of its energy policies, particularly its national electrification programme and “exemplary” renewable energy plans.

The first WEC Policy assessment, published on 13 October 2009, reviewed the performance of 88 countries in areas such as access to energy, reliability of supplies and levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The objective was to provide an independent judgment of the effectiveness of countries’ energy policies, to help promote best practice.

In the assessment WEC celebrated South Africa’s success in increasing access to electricity since 1994, and for how this access has improved the population’s quality of life.

The national electrification programme, launched in 1994, has boosted the supply of power to households across South Africa. In urban areas today 90% of households have electricity – a vast difference from 36% in 1994. Rural areas have also seen a huge improvement: from 12% in 1994 to 52% today.

According to the assessment, South Africa’s achievement of 1.5-million connections in five years accompanied by a 50% reduction in costs was made possible by detailed planning, design and project management.

“A connection had to be made every 30 seconds for five years. A pole had to be placed in the correct position every 10 seconds. Two hundred metres of cable had to be strung and attached every minute,” it said.

More business opportunities

Greater access to power has created more business opportunities. The assessment also mentions major health benefits, including fewer paraffin burns and poisoning, vaccine refrigeration, water purification and a decrease in respiratory disease.

South Africa’s highly developed energy infrastructure policies and implementation of renewable feed-in tariffs, which encourage the use of renewable energy, have been highlighted by the assessment as exemplary.

WEC also noted the country’s introduction of carbon emission reduction credits and the development of a carbon storage atlas, which will map areas of South Africa suitable for storing carbon emissions.

Learning from other achievers

Developed countries generally have far more capacity to develop effective policy than developing ones, but the assessment has revealed that a variety of nations have successful models that can be adopted more widely.

Denmark is the WEC star performer among first world countries for its successful development of renewable energy after the oil crises of the 1970s, despite lacking the hydro-power resources that are the mainstay of most other countries relying heavily on renewables. Denmark has built a vast wind-power industry, which generated 19% of the country’s electricity 2008.

The wind farms have worked well in an integrated grid with Norway and Sweden, which do have large hydro-power capacity that can be used when wind is scarce.

Denmark’s situation is proof that large-scale wind power can be made to work, but it needs a well-integrated grid and adequate back-up capacity.

Regularly cited as one of the most attractive countries in the world for investment in renewable energy, the US scored highly in the assessment in areas such as innovation and health and safety standards.

India was also cited as a model of energy policy success. The country faces huge challenges in fuelling its economic growth while broadening public access to electricity and responding to international pressure to curb its carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite this, India has made some pioneering efforts: it has set a series of targets for improving energy efficiency, such as raising the fuel economy of cars, putting more freight onto railways, and improving the performance of coal-fired power stations.

The WEC’s general conclusions reflect the common concerns of the energy industry worldwide.

“Countries need effective and open institutions, long-term vision and political stability, well-functioning markets and a willingness to collaborate both with the private sector and internationally if they are to deliver effective energy policy,” it said.

As the pressures of security of supply and climate change intensify, the need for all countries to adopt the best policies will grow stronger.

More than 90 WEC member committees from nearly 100 countries participated in the 2009 assessment. It will be conducted annually from now onwards to accelerate the move towards global energy equity and security, as well as environmental sustainability.