Recent history has been defined by four major revolutions; the invention of the steam engine kicked off the first Industrial Revolution, followed by the discovery of electricity and the invention of the combustion engine. More recently, digital technology has defined a new era for the human race.
The next revolution has already started to take shape. Renewable energy is fast replacing old, conventional forms of fossil fuel-based electricity generation. Wind and solar are fast becoming the new norm as coal-fired power stations are slowly being consigned to the graveyard.
“The sun and the wind will change the lives of millions of people,” says strategist at Investec Asset Management Michael Power. “Already, renewable energy accounts for 70% of all investment in the energy space,” he adds.
Renewable energy has a space in South Africa
The major benefit of renewable energy is that it’s free – once the infrastructure is in place, the supply of energy comes from free sources, such as the sun and the wind. Large-scale renewable energy production does require a fair amount of free space, but smaller projects can be installed on building rooftops in city centres.
The space needed is not an issue for South Africa. Large-scale wind farms are being developed at a rapid pace in the Eastern Cape where farmland can be leased and unused land can be assigned. There are big solar power generators being developed in the Karoo, such as Khi Solar One, where the sun is reliable and there is adequate space available.
These projects are the foundations upon which a more efficient renewable energy sector will be built. New technologies are constantly emerging that are more efficient and less costly. This means that renewable energy, especially in South Africa, will be an industry that defines the future of power generation and environmental protection.
New technology makes renewables better
The major barrier to entry in the renewable energy space is the initial cost of the equipment. Wind turbines are expensive and solar panels need constant maintenance and repair. However, strides are being taken in the development of the technology.
It is becoming far cheaper to produce the equipment and they are also becoming more durable. Companies such as Tesla have developed solar panels to the point where they are more efficient and stronger. This means that brittle silicon solar panels are already becoming an outdated technology.
The storage solutions for renewable energy are also developing rapidly. The energy generated from solar panels and wind turbines is being stored in facilities that allow them to release energy even when there is no sun or wind. This means that renewable energy can be a reliable option.
“Green is gold in terms of its investment proposition. Its profoundly disruptive value creation will outstrip value destruction. Oil and coal will suffer as did horsepower with the arrival of the automobile. Tropical and subtropical emerging markets that are energy- and water-short could benefit even more than developed nations,” says Power, adding that when this next industrial revolution takes off properly, all countries will benefit from cheaper energy.
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