The environmental change sweeping our world is happening at a rate far faster than previously imagined, concluded the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-6) study carried out by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) this year.
With a focus on protecting the environment during World Environment Day, 01 June 2016, the move towards the provision of renewable energy through the South African Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) Programme has been lauded for assisting in the reversion of the worst impacts of climate change, as recognised by the UNEP.
Renewable energy in general, and solar power specifically, allows for a reduction in the reliance on fossil fuels – while also providing a far superior option in terms of protecting the environment. The production of solar energy has minimal CO² emissions, little water usage, is inexhaustible, and it is safe.
Global electricity produced by solar power has doubled seven times over since 2000. Part of the reason for this is that solar is not a fuel, but a technology. Owing to economies of scale and increasing efficiency, prices of solar technology and supply continue to fall, as does the price of batteries for energy storage. As a result, the need for fossil fuels is falling internationally. It is only developing countries like South Africa that are still adding coal to the energy mix, more as a result of a rapid demand for further energy supply.
Not only is solar energy readily and freely available, but the cost of solar technology (internationally and locally) has come down substantially in the last few years. Internationally, the price has reduced as a result of technological innovation, the manufacturing learning rate, economies of scale and further competition.
Solar farms are commercially viable facilities funded by local banks and foreign direct investment and, unlike Eskom, do not need government funding and guarantees. It needs to be a priority in South Africa that we continue the investment in this source of abundantly free, green, sustainable energy.
Investing in solar power makes sense. It is the way the world is moving and South Africa is fast becoming a leading force in renewable energy programmes.
Solar power not only needs to be a priority locally in South Africa, but also the world. With increased pressures to reverse the effects of climate change, it is imperative the we focus our efforts on developing and improving renewable energy sources.
Paschal Phelan is the Chairman of Solar Capital.