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Nuclear will not solve SA's energy problems - resource expert

May 16 2018 23:00
Carin Smith

Cape Town - Turning to nuclear energy is not going to solve South Africa's energy problems, Claire Janisch of the Biomimicry Institute said at African Utility Week on Wednesday.

"The demand on resources is increasing while resources are declining. Therefore, we must think differently about how we handle it and shift our strategies to meet these challenges," Janisch said.

"Almost every single ecosystem on our planet has figured out how to grow and develop while contributing to the system they live in."

Energy Minister Jeff Radebe told reporters in Parliament on Wednesday morning that nuclear energy remained a part of South Africa’s energy mix, but said the extent to which government invested in energy would be determined through policy, Fin24 reported earlier.

Janisch gave various examples of new sustainable materials and products being developed, including cement and a biodegradable plastic.

In her view, the future of utilities must be based on a so-called "distributed system" model, which enables better response to change, is highly resilient and, if one part fails, there are various other ways to prevent the entire system from failing.

"There is not just one large tree in a forest or one leaf on a tree providing all the energy. Why can each building or unit in a city not provide back to the energy system? Yet in South Africa, we have the same power systems we had in the 1980s," she said.

"Exponential technology moves us into being able to respond fast. Our water systems must also be based on distributed systems. We cannot just leave it up to centralised dams. Each home has to gather water."

She pointed out that a typical storm water system in a city has at least 50% run-off.

"We have to start turning our cities into catchment areas by using sustainable urban drainage systems. Instead, cities are becoming like 'deserts'," she said.

She gave examples of the use of innovative bio-mimicry technology to clean a river in Stellenbosch, and Chinese technology used to treat raw sewage in an informal settlement in Franschhoek.

"If we are running out of water, we should not turn our cities into deserts. There is a lot we can learn from nature. We should all be in the regeneration business. Bio-mimicry shows that it is totally feasible in future – something we should aim towards," she said.

"We want to apply this to the rest of Africa and beyond, too."

Dr Marcus Cornaro, EU ambassador to SA, said at African Utility Week that, in today’s world, it should no longer be business as usual.

"We are forced to put on the forefront the link between water, energy and population needs. We need to consider [that] the enormous cost of global energy and the involvement of the private sector is essential to supplement public sector investments," he emphasised.

He said in Africa, the EU sees itself as playing three very important roles, namely as development partner, as a foreign direct investor and as a partner in research and investment. EU companies are especially involved in the renewable energy sector in South Africa and the rest of the continent. Long-term investment from the EU and other partners would, however, require clarity on policy.

"Strong leadership at national, regional, continental and global levels leads to the ability to leapfrog in energy and water solutions. These must be sustainable, participative and to the benefit all people," said Cornaro.

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