Academia can help Eastern Cape unlock energy opportunities

SEPTEMBER 7, 2016

Professional scholars and students can help Eastern Cape unlock energy opportunities by providing credible information to make informed decisions says the MEC for Eastern Cape MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEDEAT), Sakhumzi Somyo.

He was talking on the eve of the annual two-day national renewable and sustainable postgraduate symposium taking place at the University of Fort Hare in East London.

“We have not been friendly to the planet. Now our future generations are at a risk to environmental catastrophes such as increased flooding and more intense and frequent droughts,” he says.

The issue and solutions are complex but “our academics, armed with the right knowledge, can make a difference to our energy and climate future, by providing the right answers to our renewable and sustainable energy questions”.

“We need to remain vigilant despite the inroads we have made despite being a leader in the field and having embraced renewable and sustainable energy sources for industrial and domestic use,” says Somyo.

The province’s renewable energy strategy, developed by DEDEAT, continues to guide all renewable interventions and provides direction on balancing the imperatives for protecting the environment while providing opportunities for improving energy supply, creating jobs, developing industry and transforming our economy.  

The strategy also prioritises skills development, together with research and innovation, and has helped the province achieve numerous milestones.

In the field of research, the University of Fort Hare is leading three innovative studies in biogas including a project in which DEDEAT is involved. In partnership with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and United States Agency for International Development, the project is looking at compressed biogas for public transport.

Should this be successfully scaled up, the opportunities for feedstock production in rural areas, coupled with the supporting infrastructure for low-emissions public transport, could result in a significant new economic sub-sector favouring small businesses.

In another biogas project, the university and South African National Energy Development Institute are piloting 90 household scale biodigesters.

In the last project, the university has partnered with the Department of Science and Technology, to conduct a study to generate electricity from the waste from the university’s piggery.

On the economic front, milestones include the Eastern Cape contributing over 6,300 megawatts of renewable energy, some of which is supplied by its 16 wind farms and one solar farm.

The R3.5 billion Dedisa peaking power plant in the Coega Industrial Development Zone (IDZ), which is designed to be adapted to lower emissions natural gas, contributes 342 megawatts to the national grind.  

At the East London IDZ, a wind farm utilising a local wind turbine manufacturer, is about begin construction. The turbines will produce in excess of 3 million kilowatt-hours per annum, allowing the East London IDZ to save R98 million in electricity costs over 20 years and strengthen energy security for its industries.