I found this article recently and thought it was very interesting, particularly with the shortage of power in ther country and the ridiculous tariff increases proposed by ESKOM.

Even though South Africa is known for it's sunshine and warmth, a lack of good government policy has caused solar energy to be left behind locally. So says Solar World Congress chairman Jon Adams.

The upcoming International Solar Energy Society (ISES) Solar World Congress, in Johannesburg, will see the unveiling of a local education initiative, as well as focus on the role renewable energy can play in sustainable development in Africa.

“The buzzword is renewables,” says congress chairman Jon Adams, who believes this is the perfect time for SA to host the international event, taking place at the Sandton Convention Centre, from 11 to 14 October.

Speaking to ITWeb this week, he said: “Everything now is about renewable energies and energy efficiency; everybody is talking about saving the world.”

The 29th biennial congress, hosted by ISES and the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa (SESSA), will feature 142 experts from 49 countries. This includes Herman Scheer, president of the World Council for Renewable Energy; Hartmut Grassl, director emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology; and Richard Worthington, manager of WWF-SA's Climate Change Programme.

“There will be papers, talks, and discussions based on issues such as rural electrification,” says Adams.

He hopes the congress will change people's perception of solar, from being a second-rate technology to an effective provider of energy.

“It's the only energy source where the fuel is delivered free of charge,” says Adams. “It's silent and clean with no moving parts; and it's free once you have paid for the hardware.”

He argues that despite solar energy being a global technology that has successfully been implemented elsewhere, a lack of good government policy has caused it to get left behind locally.

“The problem in the country and the continent is that we could make great use of renewable energy, but there's little political will to make it happen.”

Ray of hope

It's the only energy source where the fuel is delivered free of charge.

Adams adds that solar is still seen as a second-rate energy source. “SA governance is a big challenge, we have a monopolistic power provider and it's only going to take a few blackouts to focus people's minds [on energy issues] again.”

His hope for the conference is “a clearer understanding of what needs to be done in Africa and a clear, unambiguous statement by government on what it is going to do”.

Growing potential

The congress will also see the introduction of a new project called Young SESSA, which aims to engage with school learners and students involved in projects or studies in sustainable energy, such as environmental studies, renewable energy technology, and environmental law.

Adams says the SESSA steering committee met to discuss how to make the conference even greener, and came up with the idea of offering a way to offset carbon emissions caused by travelling – with a twist.

“We wanted to offer those booking a ticket to fly into the country an option to offset their emissions, but instead of using it to plant a tree, where 20 of the 50-odd euro donated goes to the company planting it, the full amount would go towards training individuals in fields of renewable energy.”

Adams explains that the money collected through “green certificates” issued by SESSA will be used to fund bursaries and grants for school or university projects involving renewable energy. “In this case, it's about growing capacity, not by planting a tree, but by planting the seeds of energy education.”

He says SESSA has approached one of SA's major banks to manage the funds collected through the certificates. Students can then apply for funding or be selected, and become a member of SESSA and ISES, which will allow them to interact within an academic environment locally and internationally.

Ideally, says Adams, he would like to see someone coming out of high school, going to university and studying climate change science, or environmental law or accounting, and going on to do their masters, and PhD.

“Then, in 10 years' time, you have a 'person-tree' who has grown to become, for example, the head of Anglo American on the environmental side.

“It's a base to really make a change from the grassroots up rather than from the top down.”

Other highlights include a gala awards ceremony and, running in parallel to the conference, a renewable energy trade expo. It will feature more than 50 local and global exhibitions, including solar toys for children and a range of electric cars.

This article was originally written by Lezette Engelbrecht, ITWeb junior copy editor Johannesburg, 9 Oct 2009.

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