Out with the old but not yet in with the new

By Jonathon Hanks (22 Aug 2010)

Shortly before noon on Sunday 22 August, a Cape Town landmark (the Athlone cooling towers)  was reduced to rubble. While this was done purely for safety reasons, the symbolism of this implosion is evident, providing a useful metaphor for a possible transition from a fossil-fuel based economy.

Earlier this week WWF South Africa launched a report, titled “50% by 2030“, that calls for 50% of South Africa’s electricity to be generated from renewable resources by 2030. Citing research by the Energy Research Centre of the University of Cape Town, WWF argues that South Africa has the potential to rapidly scale up its use of renewable energy, resulting in cheaper electricity and more jobs over the medium term. The report also advocates that plans to build Kusile, Eskom’s next big coal-fired power station after Medupi, should be halted, at least until the full costs and impacts have been properly evaluated in the Integrated Energy Planning process slated for next year.

Last month, Lloyd’s of London together with Chatham House, published a report Sustainable Energy Security: Strategic Risks and Opportunities for Business that paints a challenging picture of the future. Based on their research, Lloyd’s suggests that an oil supply crunch “appears likely around 2013” and that “given recent price experience, a spike in excess of $200 per barrel is not infeasible.” As the Financial Times recognises, we’re not speaking about the energy market volatility of the past: “this time, it’s different.”

Today the skyline of Athlone changed forever. Much lies ahead, in terms of a changed landscape, that the residents of Cape Town – and the country – may need to become accustomed to.

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