How to transform the electricity system



 

Speaking at an event hosted by the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER) recently, Markus Steigenberger, the deputy executive director of Agora Energiewende, said that the transformation of the German electricity system from a dependency of coal and nuclear to renewables has resulted in a significant reduction in harmful emissions and pollutants.

 

From left: Tilmann Feltes, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung; Robyn Hugo, Ruchir Naidoo, and Melissa Fourie, CER; Markus Steigenberger, Agora Energiewende; Michelle Koyama and Nicole Loser, CER.

 

The country embarked on its renewable energy path in 1975 when renewable energy was still its infancy. Today, renewable energy-sourced electricity provides about 32% of Germany’s energy mix, up from 6,5% in 2000, Steigenberger said. At the same time, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, using 1990 as the reference point, have decreased by 27%, while targets of 40% by 2020 and 50% by 2030 have been set.

Germany uses wind and solar as its main sources of renewable energy, Steigenberger said, with biomass for flexible backup as needed. Electricity systems previously based largely on coal-fired power stations offer more potential for the expansion of renewable energy than is often claimed. Coal-fired power stations can adapt their electricity generation to the fluctuating output of wind and solar power stations far more flexibly than is generally assumed.

According to Steigenberger, only minor modifications are required for this, even with old coal-fired power stations. This gives countries, such as South Africa, which have historically relied largely on coal a way to make their electricity generation more climate-friendly at a low cost, while preserving the security of electricity supply, Steigenberger said.

He added that the South African electricity sector would benefit by introducing a combination of measures including:

  • Using demand-side management to balance and reduce the difference in demand between the peaks and troughs in the electricity demand graph.
  • A greater focus on energy efficiency, which would result in financial as well as environmental savings.
  • The adoption of more energy storage technologies to reduce demand from coal-fired power stations.
  • The modification of coal-fired power stations to make them more flexible in terms of varying their electricity generating output.
  • The integration of power, heat and transportation so that energy is not lost but converted for useful applications.

Steigenberger also proposed that South Africa should strive to keep industrial electricity tariffs as low as possible to stimulate the industrial sector and grow the economy. In South Africa, intensive energy users (heavy industry) consume 40% of Eskom’s output. They should enjoy the lowest tariff, Steinberger said.

Agora Energiewende’s recent study shows that the expansion of wind energy and photovoltaics are an effective way to modernise the electricity system in South Africa, he said, reducing both cost and harmful emissions.

 

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