South Africa's electricity network is under constant pressure and blackouts are always looming. The state-owned electricity provider Eskom finally urged its clients in mid-May to cut 10 % off their normal electricity consumption to prevent future outages. The problem hasn’t just been there since yesterday: The South African White Paper on Renewable Energy was already published in 2003 and aimed at 10,000 GWh from renewable energies in 2013, of which 23% was to come from solar water heating. And in 2009, Elizabeth Dipuo Peters, current Minister of Energy, announced her plan for one million solar water heaters in private households and commercial buildings until 2014.
There is, however, no confirmed official data on how much of this ambitious plan has been realised up to now, Prof Dieter Holm says in his article “The status of solar water heaters in 2013” published in the Energize magazine. Holm is not only a South African renewable energy pioneer, but also the coordinator of the Southern African Solar Thermal Training and Demonstration Initiative (SOLTRAIN).
Until solar thermal heating and cooling can support South Africa’s electricity network adequately, there’s still a lot to be done. Nobody knows this better than the eighty experts who gathered in Pretoria on 17 May 2013 to establish the South African Solar Thermal Technology Platform (SA-STTP). Founding the platform has been part of the second phase of the SOLTRAIN initiative, which runs until 2016. Sponsored by the Austrian Development Agency and led by Werner Weiss’s AEE - Institute for Sustainable Technologies (AEE INTEC), SOLTRAIN aims to transfer advanced solar technologies and expertise from leading Austrian companies to southern Africa. The awareness campaigns intended to foster the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable energies are a collaboration between SOLTRAIN and local partners, such as the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa (SESSA), the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) at the Stellenbosch University, the Eduardo Mondlane University, UEM, from Mozambique, the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Institute (REEEI) from Namibia and Domestic Solar Heating (DSH) from Zimbabwe.
At the first meeting of the SA-STTP, the participants nominated a steering committee, which will work out the vision and mission of a solar thermal energy strategy for South Africa and its neighbouring countries. The platform is said to follow the example of the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform (ESTTP), which is co-chaired by Weiss. It is thought to be an opportunity for networking and information exchange, allowing stakeholders from politics, science and business to jointly develop a solar thermal technology strategy. “In the upcoming months, we will work on a convincing vision and roadmap for solar thermal energy that will both accelerate the distribution of solar thermal systems in all sectors and give a substantial push to solar thermal research and development in this country,” says Werner Weiss.
Besides the SA-STTP, other Southern African countries are also thinking about their own platform. “The reason behind the regional collaboration and the inclusion of South Africa’s neighbours is that South Africa’s market is too small to justify large-scale production and to establish a knowledge-based economy for solar, which might make it difficult to compete internationally with established solar industries elsewhere in the world,” says Holm.
Southern African Solar Thermal Training and Demonstration Initiative (SOLTRAIN): www.soltrain.co.za
AEE - Institute for Sustainable Technologies (AEE INTEC): www.aee-intec.at
Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa (SESSA): www.sessa.org.za
Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES) at Stellenbosch University: www.crses.sun.ac.za
Eduardo Mondlane University, UEM, in Mozambique; www.uem.mz
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Institute (REEEI): www.reeei.org.na
Frank Stier is a Sofia-based journalist who works for print and online media, as well as news agencies: www.socb.de