Fossil Fuel Fades in the Dawn of Solar Power

In a Carte Blanche exposé aired in January this year, the extent to which coal theft is prevalent in South Africa emphasised the problems Eskom faces in relying on fossil-fueled power stations. Eskom’s chronic mismanagement, revolving door of CEOs, and their continued inability to maintain infrastructure and supply the country with reliable electricity coincides with a continent-wide drive to move away from coal as a primary source of electricity generation. Emerging trends indicate that solar power is becoming an increasingly attractive power solution for businesses and homeowners alike as costs of traditional coal-powered energy continue to rise (with no sign of respite).

It’s no secret that coal power plants produce unsustainably high carbon emissions, with compounding detrimental effects on the environment. With increasing pressure from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on its member-countries to find viable green solutions to threats posed by unsustainable energy sources and carbon emissions, larger economic powers are following suit and investing heavily in solar power initiatives. This, naturally, has a knock-on effect in that solar energy becomes increasingly commercially viable (as does battery storage energy solutions). Due to an increase in solar energy funding, coal-powered solutions will become comparatively difficult to fund as investors move with current market trends towards the rise of green solutions and low-carbon technology funding.

As the associated costs of wind, solar and gas energy sources decrease, countries that have been previously overlooked as progenitors of renewable sources are now being recognised as potentially untapped resources. The Northern Cape in South Africa, specifically, produces 2500 Kwh/m² hours of sunshine, which is two-and-a-half times that of Germany, the leader in solar technology.

As South Africa begins to investigate solar and other renewable energy sources, the possibilities become virtually endless, offering potential solutions for much of the country’s electricity woes. The inability to maintain substations and repair aging infrastructure augments load on an already-stressed grid, pointing to a drastic need for a complete system overhaul – and recent events would suggest that Eskom seems incapable of financing the necessary repairs without government or external financial assistance. Increased supply coverage, with smaller power stations at specifically designated load centres, rather than bigger centralised ones (resulting in smaller grids that would be less taxing on the system), is required. Such measures, in particular, would result in electricity being supplied to outlying areas which are currently without electricity. In addition to this, reliance on alternative power sources would result in integrated grids supplying energy across Africa’s borders without disadvantaging or compromising the amount of energy supplied on a local level.

According to Manie de Waal (CEO of Energy Partners Solar), “Eskom’s recent announcement of a new suggested pricing structure is widely perceived as a reactive measure by Eskom to compensate for its own inefficiencies”, and their drive towards expensive coal-driven power flies in the face of current market trends towards sustainable energy. There is, however, one positive outcome of this in that the “move by Eskom to artificially inflate the sale of coal-generated power may very well accelerate the market adoption of renewables, especially as battery storage is starting to enter the energy mix. Experience has shown time and time again that the market (and especially South Africans) can adapt quickly to ensure the continued growth of least-cost generation … Considering solar generation is already one of the most flexible and affordable power sources in South Africa, its ability to compete with grid-based tariffs (especially expensive coal-generated power) cannot be mitigated by artificial pricing structures such as those put forward by Eskom.”

As government resists pressure to privatise the country’s failing infrastructure, and Eskom’s pricing threatens to rise in a desperate bid to reduce debt, it would seem that the only viable alternative for South Africans would be to pursue alternative energy solutions. 

According to Jennifer Whale, General Manager: ACDC Express, “load shedding is here and here to stay. South Africans need to start investing in alternative power solutions for their families and homes. All South Africans are vulnerable when left in the dark. On-grid, off-grid, small, or large solar solutions are readily available at any ACDC Express Store.”

Nicolette Boucher, General Manager: Sunburst Electric, avers that “solar is a great renewable energy source that homeowners and business owners are becoming more interested in. With load shedding being a big factor in the reality of the South African dynamic, people are moving towards solar solutions as during load shedding, a lot of businesses are affected and in today’s economy, no one can afford the downtime. With this being said, moving to solar is also extremely cost-effective in terms of reducing monthly electricity bills. There are many reasons why solar is great and I am sure we have all heard of most of them. Sunburst Electric has the power to convert your home or office to a full solar solution, and all of our service professionals are skilled in solar installations, using only the best products in all our installations.”

At Infinity Brands, we are well aware that load shedding is here and here to stay. Our franchises firmly believe that South Africans need to become more aware of alternative energy sources and exercise their rights to explore these, while also saving money in the process. We get things done right the first time!