Alternative energy - Look to the sun

The threat of huge hikes in the price of electricity seems to have scared South Africans into considering cheaper - and more environmentally friendly - forms of energy.

Since Eskom's proposal of a 45% tariff increase for each of the next three years, companies supplying solar power equipment have been inundated with inquiries. Teljoy Group chairman Theo Rutstein says the company receives more than 300 calls a day from homeowners inquiring about solar installations.

"People have always thought going solar was a good idea, but few were prepared to pay for it," Rutstein says.

This is consistent with studies that show consumers are in favour of planet-friendly technology but are not willing to pay too much of a premium for it.

But in SA this attitude has changed as consumers face electricity bills that could treble over the next three years.

To reduce their bills, consumers' most obvious target is water heating, which accounts for 30%-50% of household electricity consumption.

Eskom lists a number of suppliers of solar heating systems on its website. Prices range from about R7 500 to R30 000 excluding installation costs, which can add another R2 500 to R6 000 to the price. Eskom rebates vary from roughly R1 000 to R5 000.

Bob Tait, acting head of Wits University's school of chemical & metallurgical engineering, says the move by consumers "makes sense", and solar heating equipment should be installed in all newly built houses.

"We're going to be paying heavily for Eskom's mismanagement," Tait says.

He predicts solar power will lead an explosion in alternative energy industries such as wind and nuclear power in SA over the next 30 years.

"SA is spending peanuts on research. But with all our sun, energy can be produced in the desert and other remote areas," he says.

This week, Sasol and the Central Energy Fund (CEF), unveiled plans to build a R900m plant to make solar panels. The plant, in Paarl, will begin production of thin-film panels based on local technology in 2012.

Sasol and the CEF will each own 45% of the plant. The remaining 10% will be held by the National Empowerment Fund (6,1%) and the University of Johannesburg's intellectual property company, PGIP (3,9%).

The plant will produce 500 000 thin-film panels a year. The panels are thinner than a human hair and are the brainchild of UJ profess or Vivian Alberts.

About 1 400 jobs will be created by the new plant.

Article by: Shannon Sherry -