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Tuesday, 08 October 2013 14:14

Viable renewable energy for low-cost housing

A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) revealed that 59% of the population of Africa has no access to electricity. This research highlights the need for alternative energy sources to be used within rural South Africa, where the majority of residents are negatively affected by the lack of energy.

A recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) revealed that 59% of the population of Africa has no access to electricity. This research highlights the need for alternative energy sources to be used within rural South Africa, where the majority of residents are negatively affected by the lack of energy.

This is the view of Arthur Chien, chief executive officer of Talesun Energy, a leading supplier of solar energy solutions, who says a major challenge facing the government is the provision of energy to remote rural areas which the national grid is unlikely to reach in the foreseeable future.

“South Africa needs to extend the provision of renewable energy to informal settlements and rural areas, in order to prevent dependence on coal-fired power stations, which are currently under strain,” he says.

Chien explains that the lack of access to electricity poses tremendous challenges for many communities. “It is almost impossible to operate a business or household without using some form of energy. Access to electricity is essential for human development and is vital for basic tasks such as lighting, refrigeration and the everyday running of household appliances.”

Chien points to the latest projects materialising in South Africa, such as Helen Zille’s flagship green project, which aims to mobilise green solutions in informal settlements. He says this is an indication that South Africa is getting serious about clean and renewable energy. “However, more investment from the public and the private sector is necessary to meet the rapidly growing demand in the country,” he says.

“We have seen much improvement in people’s lives as a result of similar solar power projects in rural settlements in China, as well as in South America. These projects provide more affordable as well as safer electricity for the basic day-to-day electricity needs. In these scenarios the power generated goes a long way in increasing productivity, as well as activities and improved service delivery.”

Furthermore, Chien says there are also many health and safety dangers linked to the current supply of energy in informal settlements. These are as a result of illegal meter tampering and the use of wood, paraffin and fuel, which can easily cause fires and result in smoke inhalation.

“Solar power has little or no risk of starting fires, and residents who use solar-powered electricity will not suffer from chronic respiratory problems and other related health complications as a result of smoke inhalation,” he says.

Chien says renewable distributed energy generation (RDEG) sources such as distributed solar photovoltaics (PV) are leading the decentralised energy revolution in developed countries such as Germany, Italy and China, where they are finding that centralised energy generation is becoming more costly and unsustainable, due to rising prices with growing energy needs.

“Decentralised structures are gradually presenting more cost-effective options and would certainly aid South Africa’s current electricity crisis,” he concludes.