Firing Up New Industries With Renewable Energy

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Feature story - September 19, 2011
Since the 1990s, wind and solar power installations around the world have grown faster than any other power plant technology.

Solar Installation in South Africa

Just two days before the kick-off of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, students of the Madiba-a-Toloane High School install 26 120W solar panels on the roof of the school hall. These panels will supply a public viewing area in the hall where 600 people of the rural village of Jericho can watch the World Cup games. © Greenpeace / Nicolas Fojtu

This rapid expansion reached a high point in 2010 when it provided enough capacity to supply electricity to the equivalent of one third of Europe.

At this point, renewable energy power plants had grown by 26%, compared with 9% for gas and 8% for coal. The global wind industry also added 35,000 MW of capacity - thereby doing in one year what it took the nuclear industry ten years to achieve!

There are renewable energy facilities in Asia, Europe and North America, but yet Africa remains an untouched market with enormous potential. We should be taking advantage of this undeveloped market to promote investment in infrastructure, skills development and manufacturing in the renewable energy sector.

This would effectively position us as a hub of renewable energy in Africa.

We already have the most advanced infrastructure in the sub-Saharan African region, as well as a skills base that can be developed and trained to work in the renewable energy sector.

If our government sticks to its plan to develop a more employment-intensive growth path, it will be very important for us to find and fill niches in the global supply chain for goods produced with more basic technology, and utilising relatively low-skilled workers.

For example, our metal industry churns out mainly bulk products with low added value. Renewable energy, especially wind and solar thermal energy, is an opportunity for the metal industry to move to higher value-added products.

Renewable energy has the potential to meet 50% of South Africa's total energy mix by 2050. This allows for economic growth, social development and environmental protection. It is not science fiction, it is our future!

The sun and wind are practically begging us to use them more. Sign our petition and join our call for the government to increase its renewable energy ambitions.