Renewable Energy in South Africa is Quietly Stealing a March on Coal

Although still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, South Africa has been quietly creating one of the world’s most progressive alternative energy plans. Solar, biomass and wind energy systems are popping up all over the country and feeding clean energy into the strained electrical grid.

“It is set to completely transform these deep rural communities in terms of healthcare, education, job creation and a raft of other interventions. All this while putting green electricity on the grid at affordable prices,” said Johan van den Berg, director of the South African Wind Energy Association.

Wind energy from new projects now costs 5 US cents per kWh, roughly half the cost of new coal. Renewable energy has a long way to go to overtake South Africa’s reliance on coal though. It is number 11 in the world for total CO2 output from energy use and the fifth largest producer of the climate-changing fossil fuel.

The situation seems poised to get worse as construction continues on Medupi, the largest dry cooled coal-fired power station in the world.  Meant to be completed by 2013, the station has been mired in delays and cost overruns since construction first started in 2007. Meanwhile, wind power has been quietly piling on capacity. Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the South African minister of energy said in a recent speech that the country has added a total of 4,322MW of renewable energy capacity in less than four years. Medupi, whenever it is finished, is designed to supply 4,764MW.

That renewables have almost surpassed the output of such a station in about half the time of it’s still-unfinished construction is a testament to the government’s commitment to alternative energy, the maturity of the technology and the work of hundreds of companies, organisations and partnering governments.

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