One of our leading stories this week is the launch of the third iteration of the Wind Atlas for SA (WASA), a high-resolution map detailing the movement of wind across the country.
As mentioned in the article, the atlas is a major boon for the burgeoning renewable energy sector in the country and is sure to go a long way to helping government invest more effectively in this vital industry.
And invest they must, because – as I’ve written plenty of times already and will continue to do so plenty more times in future – there are few things more important right now than working towards a dramatic curbing of our greenhouse emissions.
Climate change is getting worse and, as I’ve pointed already pointed out previously, we are mere decades away from reaching a catastrophic tipping point where the feedback loop of man-made climate change becomes unsustainable and ultimately unstoppable.
There is still hope, however. In 2017, Energy Watch Group – a global NPO consisting of various scientists and parliamentarians – conducted a study on the feasibility of switching to a 100% renewable energy sector.
Titled “Global Energy System Based on 100% Renewable Energy – Power Sector”, the study found that “existing renewable energy potential and technologies, including storage, can generate sufficient and secure power to cover the entire global electricity demand by 2050”.
In other words, we don’t have to wait for some miraculous intervention or genius fix to save our planet. We have the technology here and now to do what needs to be done.
And yet if you listen to politicians home and abroad, the opposite seems to be true. Sure, there’s some minor investment in renewable sources but with a few exceptions (mostly in Europe), countries are pushing hard for more of the same.
Here in SA, Eskom continues to invest in coal power plants (and poor quality coal at that) while ignoring the vast opportunities the renewable sector has to offer. In the US, you have Donald Trump and his infamous belief in “clean coal”. Even China, who has poured billions into growing its renewable energy infrastructure, is continuing to commission new coal and diesel power plants.
If renewable energy is capable of meeting all our needs in its current state, why then do governments continue to promote the very energy sources that are destroying our planet?
One reason may be cost. It is only recently that the price of solar and wind power has dropped to a level where it can compete with fossil fuel and even then, it’s a pretty tight margin at that. For a government such as ours which is already cash-strapped, there simply may not be enough money.
Lobbying could also be an issue. The fossil fuel industry is one of the most notorious when it comes to political influence and is known to throw millions at politicians in return for favours.
Wanting to save our planet may be all well and good, but that long-term thinking can be easy to ignore when the short-term promise of piles of cash is put in front of you.
Another reason may simply be bureaucratic inertia. As many of our readers can no doubt attest, the wheels of government can move ridiculously slow so trying to completely overhaul an entire economic sector isn’t going to happen overnight.
Despite all of that, however, we as citizens should continue to press our government to make the right choice and invest in our future. We know now that it is possible so now it’s time to put it into action.