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S.Africa looks to sun, wind to lighten blackouts

by Staff Writers
Johannesburg (AFP) Dec 16, 2007
Faced with power cuts stretching into the next decade, South Africa is slowly switching its focus to alternative energy sources in a country blessed with bountiful sunshine and a lengthy coastline.

While state power utility Eskom warns solar and wind power can only ever meet a fraction of the nation's needs, environmentalists want a more aggressive pursuit of alternative energy rather than a growing use of nuclear power.

"From an environmental perspective the use of fossil fuels and uranium is all bad news," says Richard Worthington, a spokesman for the environmental pressure group Earthlife Africa.

"The idea that we still using electricity to heat water when we have heat beating down on our houses ... it's just insane."

Eskom recently acknowledged that electricity shortages will continue to blight Africa's largest economy for the next seven years and is now busy working out how to make up the shortfall.

In an interview with AFP, Eskom's enterprises executive Brian Dames said the company would embrace any renewable energy source but he stressed it would have to be backed up by nuclear or coal, which he sees as the main sources for the future.

"Renewables are expensive, we all know that. We are a moderate wind country so we will exploit the wind because it's the one proven technology we have and certainly we would look at solar as well," he said.

While the company was planning to set up a wind farm on the Atlantic West Coast, Dames said it would generate only 100 megawatts, and be available at the most, 26 percent of the time.

"Now you tell me, what do we do, in a developing country like us where we need to attract energy intensive business, if I say to you I will provide you electricity whenever the wind blows.

"We in South Africa need energy that is continuously available throughout the year."

Dames says the use of solar energy in the place of electric water heaters was high up the company's agenda, with a solar generating pilot project planned in the remote Northern Cape.

"The big driver for us is the fact that we need to hedge our CO2. You cannot assume that we are going to be in a future where CO2 penalties will not come into play, so we now have to start responding to that."

Maya Aberman, Earthlife Africa's campaign co-ordinator, said a new study it commissioned on South Africa's renewable energy potential showed that the possibilities were huge.

The study found "it would be possible to supply between 13 to 20 percent of electrical demand by 2020 and about 70 percent by 2050," said Aberman.

South Africa currently bases 88 percent of its energy generation on coal, a figure which Eskom hopes to reduce to 70 percent in the next 20 years.

With nuclear energy seen by some as a green alternative to pollution-emitting coal, South Africa has committed to expanding this area of energy despite massive opposition from environmentalists.

Next year Eskom will submit proposals to build what would be the country's second nuclear plant to its board with environmental assessments, public participation and nuclear licensing programmes currently underway.

South Africa's only existing nuclear power station is at Koeberg, near Cape Town, producing about six percent of the country's electricity.

Aberman said the pursuit of nuclear energy was a waste of time and the money would be better spent on renewable energy.

"We are approaching the uranium peak. We are going to spend billions to build all the power stations that won't be fully operational within ten years. But in fifty years there will be no uranium left anyhow."

However Dames counters that coal and oil are similarly finite, and a fraction of uranium was required to produce a kilowatt of energy as compared to coal.

"Certainly the uranium reserves in South Africa are more than adequate to sustain a significant amount of nuclear capacity in the country," he said.

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NASA And Florida Power And Light Explore Renewable Energy Projects
Cape Canaveral FL (SPX) Dec 14, 2007
NASA and Florida Power and Light, also known as FPL, are studying potential renewable energy projects that would be done at Kennedy Space Center. Kennedy and FPL managers signed a memorandum of understanding Thursday at the space center that establishes the framework for determining how technically and financially possible it would be to carry out various 'green power' plans.

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