A major energy crisis has affected millions of peoples’ livelihoods in South Africa. A decade of mismanagement and corruption has left the national electricity grid close to collapse, regularly plunging much of the nation into darkness.
Widespread blackouts can cost the country’s economy up to $284 million every day. But the energy shortages are also spurring a new generation of entrepreneurs, as renewable energy is increasingly being seen as the answer to the problem.
One thing South Africa has a lot of is sunshine – 2,500 hours a year on average, according to the weather bureau, which makes it ideal for the country’s solar power revolution. It’s a revolution led by a younger generation which has no allegiance to old ways of doing things.
“For our generation climate change is obvious; we not only experience it, but we’re not threatened by what it means to change the ways of doing business in order to respond to that,” said Fumani Thembi, a co-founder of Pele, a company committed to building renewable energy plants across Africa.
Their plant at Touws River, near Cape Town, contributes enough energy to power 36,000 households. It’s cheap, it’s clean and – unlike coal – in endless supply.
Thembi said, “I think it’s time, it’s history and perhaps also opportunity, for us to finally get on a development path that is sustainable as the African continent.”
Pele has given residents here a 5 percent stake in their company. And it also supplies electricity to the Touws River Primary School. Most of the children here will grow up only knowing solar energy, which not only powers their school but provides them with hidden educational benefits. They’ve cut their electricity bill by half – a huge saving for a school servicing an impoverished community. Deputy principal Sidney Louw said, “It’s cheap, it’s clean electricity. No pollution, and it only uses the sun.”
His 10-year-old students agree. Jo-Marie Matthys told correspondent Debora Patta, “It’s pretty mind-blowing, because it just looks like windows, but it’s actually generators, and it makes its own power from the sun.”
And it’s that power that could ensure the survival of South Africa’s internationally-renowned wine country. In Franschhoek, just outside Cape Town, the switch to solar has been borne out of necessity, on the back of more than three years of drought. Constant power outages have had a dire effect on the farming industry.
One 300-year-old fruit farm uses only renewable energy. Farmer Frans Van der Merwe says it was cheaper to build a floating solar farm – a continental first – than to plant more orchards. “We have taken so much from this Earth, that I think it’s time that we give something back,” he told Patta.
Giving back in a way that’s good for business, and good for Planet Earth.
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