While the energy sector is responsible for two thirds of global carbon emissions, more than a billion people around the world still has no access to electricity.(1) As most areas in South Africa average more than 2,500 hours of sunshine per year with average solar-radiation levels ranging between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m2 in one day (2), South Africa proves to be one of the best candidates in the world to successfully utilise the sun as a source of renewable energy; and can drastically reduce carbon emissions as well as the number of people without access to energy.
Renewables have become cost-effective in many parts of the developing world, particularly in rural areas away from the electricity grid, where people use relatively expensive, inefficient diesel generators and kerosene lamps. (3)
With regards to the lighting sector specifically, outdoor lighting can be a big expense. The need for lighting exists in developed and developing areas which puts a large amount of pressure and demand on the electricity grid. By investing in and implementing energy efficient technology like solar power and LEDs for instance to power streets and pathways, parking lots, signage and open public spaces like parks; major positive change can be achieved. LED outdoor lights have low installation costs and new building projects can benefit immensely with solar outdoor lighting. There is no need for preparations like trenching and wiring, and businesses will also be less impacted by the continuous rise in electricity prices or the impending carbon tax.
Some examples of sustainable energy acumen and innovation in action:
- The City of Cape Town’s R3.8 million LED street lighting pilot has lead to a 32% reduction in electricity load usage. Since 2010, the City has saved almost 80 000 MWh of electricity and 79 000 tons of carbon through its municipal operations energy efficiency programme. (4)
- Poland has a bike lane that is charged by the sun (5) and in the Netherlands is another bike path made of swirling solar-powered LEDs and light collecting paint. (6)
Mandating the implementation of off-grid renewables in the energy and development sector will greatly reduce future carbon emissions and benefit rural settlements and communities, businesses and the general infrastructure.
Renewable energy creates jobs (the solar PV industry has created more than 20,000 jobs across construction and operations sectors in South Africa (7), empowers individuals with knowledge through education, alleviates poverty and improve living conditions, is easy to work with in any space and can be incorporated in future development. It will save money and resources and help us to reach the point where we can ditch the fossil fuel energy industry for good in aspiration of zero carbon emissions.
(1) http://www.theecologist.org; (2) http://www.energy.gov.za; (3) https://www.theguardian.com; (4) http://traveller24.news24.com; (5) http://inhabitat.com; (6) http://inhabitat.com; (7) http://www.solarcentury.com.