Municipalities holding SA back on smart energy - expert

Adam Wakefield, News24

Pretoria - Municipalities are holding South Africa back when it comes to using smart energy technology, a member of the National Advisory Council of Innovation (Naci) said on Friday.

Kevin Nassiep, a member of the Naci council and project leader of the energy rapid response sub-committee, said municipalities were slowing down the pace of change in the energy industry, as they were dependent on certain electricity services.

"The metros should be looking to implement other value added services," Nassiep told a Naci roundtable discussion on energy choices in Pretoria on Friday.

"If you look at smart meters in the country, there is large scale resistance."

This needed to be changed, but it would be a challenge to do so.

Municipalities and national power utility Eskom were not necessarily motivated to implement smart meters, as it meant a loss of potential revenue, he said.

He said it was about time the country applied more innovation to the energy market so that consumers had several options.

Another factor holding back the renewable energy sector was the different subsidy levels fossil fuels received in comparison to renewable energy.

Nassiep said it was estimated that global subsidies to the fossil fuel industry totaled $5.3 trillion last year, while the renewable energy sector received a comparitively meagre $120 billion.

"How can you expect to create an equitable market when the one subsidy is much greater than the one for future technologies?" he asked.

"We also have a lack of expertise in global renewable technologies... [and] that technology is not diffusing fast enough."

Even so, the growth of the renewable energy sector had been nothing short of "amazing", said Nassiep, who is also the CEO of the SA National Development Institute.

"Last year, according to the [REN21] Global Status Report... South Africa featured 4th in the list of countries that looked at its expenditure on renewable energy relative to its GDP," he said.

This year, South Africa had fallen away somewhat, allowing other African countries to feature, though it was an area South Africa should be looking at to reassert itself.

There was also a general consensus that renewable energy programmes were not ambitious enough.