Last week, I stumbled on the most interesting, yet unexpected piece of research.  Mainstream Renewable Power released its finding based on research from 18 wind and solar sites across South Africa during 2013 which showed that electricity generated from wind and solar resources closely follows South Africa’s electricity demand profile, meaning that they actually generate power at the time of day it is most needed. The research further revealed that, when combined, wind and solar generation are significant contributors to baseload power2. This research thus effectively busts one of the biggest myths created by the anti-renewables lobby: that we require coal and nuclear generation to provide for baseload demand as renewable energy sources cannot meet this demand.

What is particularly interesting about this research is that this phenomenon does not occur everywhere in the world; in fact this is not something that occurs with such regularity in other global markets. This means that South Africa is in a pretty unique position to make the most of renewable energy. Contrary to what has been argued about how renewable energy is not available when it is most needed, in South Africa the sun shines and the wind blows when electricity is most needed, and this should be enough of a reason to remove the barriers to renewable energy immediately – it’s not rocket science.

Wind and solar power are currently feeding into the energy grid within South Africa and are doing so on time and within budget. Independent Power Producers have effectively produced 4 322MW of renewable energy for inclusion into the grid in four years. To put this in perspective, Medupi (when it eventually comes online) will produce 4 764MW of electricity. The Department of Energy is quick to laud the private renewable energy program as being first class, and this program is applauded in the Global community. However, barriers to renewable energy uptake in South Africa still exist, and to truly achieve the potential from wind and solar resources these barriers to renewable energy need to be removed.  Essentially, this would involve removing all the remaining barriers to rooftop solar, and expanding renewable energy projects along with implementing much more ambitious renewable energy targets.

Not only is renewable energy delivering on time and within budget, it is increasingly also doing so at a much lower price than coal based electricity. In the latest bidding round, the price of wind power had dropped to 62c/kWh while solar power came in at 79c/kWh. Compare this to the predicted cost of electricity from Medupi which is currently 128c/kWh, and it is clear that renewable energy is a much better choice. The economic case for renewable energy is clear and now, based on independent research, it is becoming increasingly clear that the traditional arguments against renewable energy are unfounded. South Africa has some of the best renewable resources in the world, and renewable energy is the clear solution to the current electricity crisis, the time to act is now. 

  2. Baseload can be described as the minimum level of power required over 24 hours by the collective users – the minimum demand.