Is Zuma getting it right on Solar hot-water?

The Zuma administration has come in for a lot of criticism over its energy policy. A policy seemingly driven by World Bank loans, which fund questionable projects while creating national debt without freeing the country of the twin scourges of dependence upon both fossil fuels and carbon emissions.

Both atomic energy and coal technology have become hallmarks of South Africa’s outmoded and regressive power infrastructure, which merely repeats the mistakes of the past while offering up few alternatives. It is therefore notable to find the president making pronouncements upon renewables such as solar power during the recent freedom day celebrations

In Winterveld, 270 households are  apparently enjoying the benefits of a small deviation in policy — with solar water heating systems provided by government and which are expected to be rolled out to about 1 million homes by 2014.”This is a system with many benefits,” said an enthusiastic Zuma, who urged all South Africans to convert to solar power as the electricity tariff will continue to increase over the years.

Fresh from his participation in an international nuclear non-proliferation conference, the President continues to draw fire from environmentalists opposed to carbon emissions and nuclear ambitions.

Green activists have warned that South Africa might be falling behind in limiting the carbon footprint of the 2010 Fifa World Cup and that this could leave a significant environmental legacy.

Earthlife Africa’s energy policy officer Tristan Taylor points out that many of the greening projects highlighted so far are actions that stadiums and bodies such as Fifa should already be doing anyway. “They’ll have to do a whole lot more for it to be a green World Cup,” he said.

Zuma’s Solar Power Express train could just be sophisticated window-dressing, but if it signals a change in policy away from carbon and nuclear, then we should all be grateful. Though it will be hard to hide the controversy over Eskom’s Madupi facility, and a World Bank loan which could have been better spent on providing households with a mix of rewewables — fuel cells, solar and wind.

Our country’s vehicles are still dependent upon fossil fuel. The distinguishing feature of international environmental efforts are the transport technologies which take the earth into consideration. Guests to the World Cup will be greeted by a system in which electric vehicles are absent and except for a few model projects such as Winterfeld, the vision of rewewable energy society is second place to the World Bank future encapsulated by the highly centralised and costly Madupi plant.

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