Let’s join the renewable energy bandwagon

With the latest spate of load shedding on everyone’s lips, I once again realised it’s a crying shame that we don’t harness sunny and windy South Africa’s potential to be a leader in this field.

We’ve already seen quite a few wind turbines popping up in the Western Cape, where farmers are taking advantage of the weather conditions to power their farms, and/or let space for wind turbines to other renewable energy providers.

A lot has been said and written about the ecological impact wind farming has on birds and the beauty of the vicinity – especially about a pending wind farm in the Sneeuberg mountain range (FW 19 September 2014) near Victoria West in the Karoo. But organisations like Greenpeace are not that concerned though, claiming coal and nuclear plants are far more detrimental to the environment.

Next option: growing energy through biomass.

Biomass energy is produced from plants and organic wastes – everything from crops, trees, and crop residues to manure. On local soil there are quite a few examples of this form of renewable energy in the pipeline, starting with the sugar industry, which is turning towards energy production to maintain profitability.

In 2013, government gave the industry the go-ahead to submit formal proposals on their plans to produce renewable energy on a large scale (FW 2 August 2013). Head of the SA Sugar Association Dr Marilyn Govender writes that increased sugar mill efficiency, better technology and agricultural yield would enable sugar mills in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga to produce two to seven times more power for export to the national grid.

And then we have solar power – the most accessible and affordable form of renewable energy on offer – especially in South Africa, which is the third-best solar location globally and has one of the highest and most stable solar radiations in the world.

The amount of energy stored in the Earth’s reserves of coal, oil and natural gas is equal to the energy from 20 days of sunshine. In a farming environment, solar energy can be used to dry crops; warm homes, livestock buildings and greenhouses; heat water; and much, much more.

Some practical examples include Bosman Family Vineyards, Ceres Koelkamers, Rooibos Ltd and fruit producers Timberlea Farming Trust. The energy savings is substantial – with Timberlea subsidising up to 30% of the farm’s electricity need and saving up to 213t of carbon emissions per annum.

From a practical point of view solar energy is the most viable option to reduce power consumption, but farmers should definitely join the renewable energy bandwagon. Not only would it be great to play a key role in relieving our power grid, but the additional revenue potential of energy through wind turbines and biomass is very lucrative. Most farmers have the space for it, so why not put it to good use?

Additional sources: The Union of Concerned Scientists, The Financial Times