"It is the stated goal of the Western Cape Government to make this province the green economic hub of South Africa and we intend that, by 2014, at least 10% of electricity used in the province will be generated from renewable energy sources. Solar energy will naturally be central to achievement of both these aims."
This was the message of Ms Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape, in delivering the opening address (video) at the 1st Southern African Solar Energy Conference (SASEC 2012) hosted by Stellenbosch University.
The conference, held at the held at the Technopark Protea Hotel from 21-23 May, focuses on both Solar Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Energy technologies.
Ms Zille said that the provincial government is working to ensure that renewable energy is integrated into new infrastructure that is rolled out in the province. An example she referred to is the 71.6 km-long ‘Average Speed Over Distance’ camera network built by the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works. Not only is it longest such network in the world but it is also the first one in the country that is entirely powered by solar and wind energy.
“By 2020, we envisage the Western Cape to operate with a modern energy system that is highly efficient and where fossil fuel use has been greatly reduced. To realise this long term energy vision for the province will require commitment and innovative thinking. More importantly, this vision challenges all sectors to come together through harmonised working relationships to make green energy and zero carbon footprints a reality,” she added. “We remain convinced that green projects will play a vital role in creating economic growth and jobs for the region.”
She also said that she is fascinated by the work being done in informal settlements serviced by the University and that the innovative contribution by academics and students towards upgrading informal settlements, in design, retrofitting of basic services and energy generating, is “quite extraordinary”.
In welcoming (video) delegates to the conference, Prof Russel Botman, Rector and Vice-Chancellor, said that gobally, renewable energy is high on the agenda, “and solar power is one of the key focus areas for a world looking for sustainable solutions to its energy needs. Our country and region – in fact, our continent – has an abundance of sunshine, which puts us in an excellent position to make use of this resource.”
He added that the ability to sustainably exploit renewable energy must be fast-tracked. The good news is however that South Africa is on the verge of commissioning large renewable-energy power stations. These could come online before the controversial coal-fired power stations currently under construction. Technology is advancing fast; private investors are putting their hands up; and government is working with industry to make things happen. “What we need to do now, is to keep up the momentum.”
He added that Stellenbosch University is proud to be a significant role player in renewable energy. He referred to the University following a science-for-society approach. “The vehicle that we use to drive our endeavours is the HOPE Project. Its themes were distilled from the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. Balancing sustainability with a competitive industry is one of our priorities.
“Renewable energy – in particular solar energy – has a major role to play in changing the world. And those who doubt it can just go to Enkanini, which is an informal settlement a few kilometres from here. There they will find a joint project between Stellenbosch Municipality and the University. It is called the iShack, which is a prototype dwelling erected by postgraduate students in Sustainable Development. They are working with the Municipality on an upgrading programme for informal settlements. On the roof of the iShack is a small photovoltaic panel that generates enough electricity for two electric lights; and for charging a cell phone. It does not sound like much, but this is exactly the kind of innovation that can improve the quality of life of the poorest of the poor in developing countries the world over. Crucial for this kind of project to succeed is close collaboration between different role players. That is why we value the role played by our partner in the iShack project, the Stellenbosch Municipality.”
The conference sees a large number of international participants, as well as researchers from Africa, joining South African delegates to deliberate the latest advances in solar technologies.
“The conference provides the opportunity for researchers, engineers, technologists and individuals to share and discuss recent developments in the field and share ideas on future requirements and developments. The conference themes focus on research and development projects and results completed by universities and other research institutions over the last five years,” says Prof Wikus van Niekerk, Director of the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES), and Chair of the Conference.
The programme included two keynote addresses. Dr Christoph Richter of the DLR (German Aerospace Centre) spoke (video) on recent developments in the field of concentrating solar power and Prof Jürgen Werner from Stuttgart University explored the future of photovoltaic technologies. In total forty-six technical presentations are included in the programme from various universities and research groups in Southern Africa and abroad. The topics vary from an in-depth analysis of the flow of air through packed beds, used for thermal storage, to perspectives on national policies that will support solar energy.
- See www.sasec.org.za for more information.