Sustainable Energy Africa (Association Incorporated under Section 21)

Background Information for the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Presentation by

Leila Mahomed of Sustainable Energy Africa

9 March 2005

Energy, people, planet & prosperity


It is clear that a low energy path is the best way towards a sustainable future .... this requires profound structural changes in ... institutional arrangements and is an important challenge to global society

The Brundtland Report - "Our Common Future" 1987."


Importance of Energy

Energy is usually defined as ‘the capacity to realize work’. The objective of an energy system is to support us in meeting our many varied needs. So it is not energy itself but the energy services for illumination, regulating indoor temperature, refrigeration, transportation and for cooking that is important in our daily lives and could be considered a basic need.

The general importance of energy for human development is unmistakable, although we often take its functions for granted. What is less obvious to many of us, however, is how closely energy production and use are connected with major issues of concern such as economic development and job creation, poverty, gender inequality, food security, and the environment.

Energy & the planet

The production and use of energy have environmental consequences at local, regional, and global levels. These impacts extend throughout the fuel cycle of an energy system—the entire chain of activities from extraction of energy sources through processing to transport, storage, final conversion, and end use. They could also manifest themselves over short, medium or long time-scales, or have cascading effects by combining with other environmental problems. With centralised, large-scale operations, both production and use of energy can cause local resource depletion, either because of excessive extraction or contamination of land, water, and forests through pollution, or habitat destruction. Thus, large thermal power plants, whether they use renewables or fossil fuels, could have adverse local resource impacts related to excessive water consumption, soil and ground-water pollution, or deforestation. Large industries or agricultural or transport operations that operate at high intensity can have similar adverse local resource impacts.

The main energy source in South Africa is coal, which is the most carbon intensive fuel (has high carbon emissions) and is responsible for the global environmental threat of climate change. Burning coal also releases toxic pollutants at source, which contributes to poor local air quality and poor health of surrounding residents.

Thermal power plants generate air pollution in the form of particulates, oxides of sulphur and nitrogen, and various air toxics, apart from causing land and groundwater pollution during disposal of sludge and fly-ash. Even the Western Cape and the City of Cape which might seem far removed from the large coal generation plants and the environmental impact should shoulder some of the responsibility as it is worth remembering that this coal feeds the Western Cape and so it.

Small or mini-hydropower generation is a much more environmentally safe option than large hydroelectric plants. Similarly, other renewable energy technologies, such as wind and solar power, have relatively minor environmental impacts associated with them. Wind farms cause some noise pollution and also present a potential hazard to breeding birds. Solar panels using batteries have adverse environmental effects associated with the disposal of lead and battery acid, but these can be reduced considerably with proper environmental management of waste and good housekeeping practices. The environmental risks from the use of nuclear energy to produce electricity are also well-known

The use of energy also has adverse local impacts. Energy conversion to generate steam or process heating in industry typically involves combustion process in which coal, oil, biomass or natural gas is burned, thereby generating harmful air pollutants to varying degrees. Industrial energy use, like centralised power production, also has harmful environmental consequences for local water bodies and the soil. Urban transportation is associated with some of the most serious problems of air pollution.

One of the most serious global environmental problems today is the steady and long-term increase in atmospheric concentrations of so-called greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen dioxide, and chlorofluoro-carbons. Long-term stability in the concentrations of these gases is vital because they absorb outgoing radiation from the Earth’s surface and effectively trap heat in the atmosphere, raising its average temperature to a level that makes life on earth possible. Substantial increases or decreases in greenhouse gases are likely to induce climate change within a matter of decades, with possibly devastating consequences for several countries. The responsibility for managing the aftermath of disasters caused by climate change can be reduced by effective mitigation and adaptation programmes.

The efficient production and use of energy could provide important means to intervene positively in these vital areas of human concern.

Energy and people

Energy underpins life itself. Access to energy is closely related to quality of life.

The poor typically spend a greater fraction of their income on indispensable energy services, such as cooking, than do the rich. At the same time, they frequently forgo (or compromise severely on) services like lighting and space heating that require energy carriers (e.g., electricity) and devices (e.g., fluorescent lights) to which they either don’t have access, or whose first costs tend to be unaffordable. In general, people in poverty expend more time and effort to obtain energy services that tend to be of lower quality than the energy services available to the rich

Access to poor quality energy sources together with a lack of resources to use energy wisely results in energy wastage through badly insulated housing as well as destruction of property and loss of life as has been seen in many informal settlements in the Western Cape, where destructive fires caused by overturned candles and exploding paraffin stoves have displaced thousands of people. In many cases the communities who experience these health impacts are unable to afford electricity and depend on paraffin or wood for heating and cooking. These energy sources used in badly ventilated shelter result in further well documented negative health impacts (indoor air pollution due to use of poor quality fuels is linked to chronic lung disease).

Currently in poor households (with and without access to electricity) energy sources include paraffin for cooking, water heating and space heating, as well as lighting. Simply increasing the access to electricity (eg through grid connections) will not better the situation or contribute to poverty alleviation as it is the level of services (such as heating water) that needs to be improved.

The underlying injustice associated with energy is that those who bear the burden of the negative impacts of energy inefficiency and dirty fuels are poor communities, while it is the middle and upper income families, industry and commerce, who in most cases, gain the benefits.

It is also the most energy intensive uses thus who contribute to the global environmental problems associated with the energy chain.

Sustainable energy should result in an equitable quality of life where energy is used wisely in order to maximise benefits and minimise risks to all communities.

Energy and prosperity

Energy for lighting cooking, washing and space heating is the backbone of the household economy, the provision of energy for industry, transport and commerce is the backbone of the international, national and of course provincial economy. Without energy, a nation would not be able to function and economic activity will cease.

A major obstacle to meeting this goal, however, lies in the way energy is generally perceived within the framework of overall socio-economic development. Presently, energy consumption, rather than the level of energy services, is seen as the indicator of development. By taking energy consumption as the measure of development, energy planners are often simply concerned with increasing fuel and electricity supplies based on existing patterns of energy use, rather than with identifying and sustaining the level of energy services that would be required to satisfy basic human needs. Energy is an essential input for the fulfilment of all basic needs. From the standpoint of sustainable human development, therefore, what is urgently needed is a reorientation of ideas about energy to focus on the manner in which it is presently utilised, its potential for improving people’s quality of life, and ways to increase access to its services for the poor.

The end uses of energy are roughly equally split among industry, transport, and others, including cooking, space heating and cooling, agriculture, etc. From the standpoint of the end user, what matters most about energy is the level of service it provides, rather than the amount of primary energy that goes into delivering the service. Since conserving a kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity or fuel is generally cheaper than producing an additional kWh, the most cost-effective ways to deliver energy services often involve improving the efficiency of energy conversions to final energy or the of end-use devices. It has been estimated that a modest increase in per capita primary energy is sufficient for developing countries to provide energy services equivalent to those enjoyed in Western Europe in the mid-1970s.

While this pattern of de-coupling between energy and GDP growth is most pronounced in the examples of the USA, Germany, UK, France and Japan, even a developing country, such as China, and countries in transition like Poland, follow these trends, both having recently passed a "hump" of high energy intensity. Also, since many developing countries are entering periods of industrialisation at a stage when there are already significant opportunities for energy efficiency, it is conceivable that they could "leapfrog" sooner than developed countries to points of low energy intensity

An important way for countries to exploit the numerous supply and demand side opportunities for leapfrogging energy technologies is to establish special incentives that make their adoption attractive for producers, consumers, and manufacturers of energy services. Technological leapfrogging through such policy innovation provides developing countries the opportunity to employ the most technologically advanced energy systems available on the world market to meet their energy demands, if not to actually consider deploying new, emerging technologies and systems which are not yet in wide use. Nevertheless, it is important that these technologies be chosen wisely, to ensure their appropriateness to conditions of cheap labour markets, natural resource availability, and the satisfaction of basic needs.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, fossil fuel and energy intensive patterns are entrenched in the energy policies and programmes of many developing countries. Much of energy discourse is dominated by a supply-oriented paradigm that links GDP growth directly with energy use. Cross-country experience has shown, however, that national energy demand is proportional to GDP if and only if the structure of the economy and the energy intensities are constant. In addition, a widely-held belief among policy-makers is that the only energy carriers of significance are coal, petroleum-derived liquid fuels, natural gas for industry and transport, and electricity for almost all other services. Linked with this is the often-mistaken idea that the investment costs of harnessing energy from renewable sources would be much higher than from fossil fuels.

Expenditure on increasing energy supply represents a major economic cost to all countries. In the developing world, the financial and opportunity cost of capital, foreign exchange constraints, and the cost of energy subsidies combine to create severe economic constraints to supply-driven models for expanding energy. The present level of worldwide investment in the energy supply sector, $450 billion per year, is projected to increase to perhaps $750 billion per year by 2020, about half of which would be for the power sector. Such investment levels cannot be sustained by traditional sources of energy financing.

Transport is one of the fastest-growing sectors of energy use, with road transport being the major sub-sector. Transport accounts for 54% of Cape Town consumption yet the focus on transport is on addressing equity issues at a macro level without a similar emphasis on energy efficiency. The importance of an affordable clean energy public transport system cannot be overemphasized in addressing socio-economic sustainability issues.

Due to our past, South Africa is in the unfortunate position of having a low technological skills base and this cannot be solved over night. In order to advance human dignity and expand the economic activity of the population as a whole, job creation should focus on economic opportunities which enable low skills to quickly become reskilled, upgraded and which produces local products which could also be exported. One example is the solar water heating industry which could provide 13000 appropriately skilled jobs for a R2.6 bn investment while the PBMR nuclear technology can offer 135 highly skilled direct jobs at a cost of R10 billion (2004 figure).

The challenge

Cities and towns run on energy – it forms the very lifeblood of a city’s functioning. Energy is an entirely crosscutting sector, which has far reaching impacts on all aspects of city management and citizens’ lives. South African cities and towns are constantly involved in making energy decisions – sometimes without even knowing it. If an integrated strategic approach is applied to energy, it can form the vital backbone to integrated sustainable city development planning. The critical role that energy plays in economic development, social welfare, and environmental sustainability is being increasingly recognised, such that local governments all over the world are planning and implementing more sustainable approaches to their energy production and use.

Some cities in the developed world have prepared integrated energy plans for their cities, but this is fairly new to south countries. An energy strategy ensures a co-ordinated approach to energy that works towards goals of social development, economic vitality and environmental integrity. A practical part of an energy strategy would look at the local government’s energy consumption and the development of energy saving projects. Very significant cost savings can be realised within a municipality through energy saving projects such as installing Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL’s) in administration buildings or Light Emitting Diodes (LED’s) in traffic lights.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of an integrated strategic approach to energy, which has led to an increase in demand for training in the development of local energy strategies.

Local Authorities are not only big energy users and significant distributors of electricity, but are also ideally placed to influence the energy use of others as they are major employers and primary planners and service providers in the city. Energy costs also draw precious budgetary resources from other important municipal functions such as public transport and health care. Energy is a variable cost, which can be controlled by cutting down on wasteful energy consumption.

For local governments, sustainability means thinking, planning and acting in the long-term, examining all the impacts of decisions made today with tomorrow in mind. Local governments make decisions affecting land use, building codes, transportation systems and waste disposal, and each of these decisions impacts energy use.

A sustainable energy plan integrates long-term energy planning into the local policymaking framework. At the implementation level, planning for a sustainable future means linking local energy policies and programs to broader community goals affecting our economic, social, and environmental well-being. The detrimental impacts of modern energy consumption practices cannot be reversed overnight, so sustainable energy planning must be an ongoing, dynamic activity.

The low-income housing sector in a city or town is where one of the greatest impacts in terms of poverty alleviation can be made. Housing the nation is one of the greatest challenges facing the government and the people of South and Southern Africa. Equally urgent is the need to improve living conditions in informal settlements, hostels and former township areas. However, the urgency to address these needs has meant that sustainability considerations are often overlooked. Quality of life, a healthy environment and sound development are closely linked. Incorporation of energy and environmental concerns into all stages of the housing delivery and upgrading process can save money and significantly improve quality of life of the residents.

Understanding the energy and environmental implications of different layout plans, service options, house designs and implementation approaches is thus crucial to achieving long term sustainability and is crucial to making a cities energy strategy work.

The cities & provinces are at a juncture in its economy where it can exploit several available leap-frogging technologies and institutional opportunities to steer themselves towards sustainable modes of development. There are several indications that the judicious development of energy services could bring in new prospects for meeting Cities & Province’s sustainable development goals. These opportunities exist on the demand and supply sides of the energy sector.


Moving to a Sustainable Energy System

Energy provision to alleviate poverty must look at the provision of an acceptable level of energy service. Equity issues must be addressed to ensure adequate services to all.

The world energy system is responsible for more than half the anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, of which the predominant gas is carbon dioxide (CO2). Again, the majority of these emissions are due to fossil fuel use, which represents about 75 percent of total energy use.

A sustainable energy path to development is not only necessary to ensure the future survival of humanity, but is also a vital aspect of any agenda to eradicate existing poverty. In order to maximize sustainability, we need to move away from non-renewable sources of energy, to phase out fossil and its derivatives, and nuclear, and to move towards renewables and increasing energy efficiency where environmental and social externalities are included in energy costs.

Instead of our over-reliance on fossil fuel and nuclear derived electricity, the energy mix should focus on more efficient use of energy conversions such as natural gas for cooking (natural gas while still a fossil fuel is considerably cleaner than coal) and space heating, housing typology design to reduce energy wastage for space heating, conversion to energy saving devices such as energy saving lights, introduction of passive energy technology such as solar water heating and a diversification of electricity production sources to include wind and biofuels, etc. Such diversification and implementation of energy conservation, efficiency and alternatives would result in huge energy savings, removing the need for increasing numbers of highly expensive power producers and thereby providing a more affordable, higher level of energy service than before.

Sustainable energy systems encompass more than energy efficiency and conservation. These systems are diverse, flexible, self-reliant and renewable, and such planning requires careful development, nurturing, implementation and review. It involves strong support from the community and partners at all levels.

Energy’s links with poverty issues, environmental degradation, macroeconomic, and security concerns indicate that the diverse problems faced by developing countries could only intensify if they were to follow the patterns of energy consumption that developed countries have exemplified thus far and hinder sustainable human development.

Developing countries, such as ours, are following policies emphasising only growth in energy supply as a means for ensuring economic growth. Such policies are typically implemented at the expense of promoting measures to provide energy services in the most efficient manner possible, through an optimal combination of supply and demand-side options. In addition, many countries tend to invest heavily in an energy supply infrastructure based entirely on conventional fuels, which frequently requires huge (and often hidden) government subsidies to support their centralised, fossil-fuel dependent, and supply-driven energy economies. This, in turn, has caused some countries to experience being "locked" into the unsustainable energy pathways that were carved out during early years of modernisation.

Prevailing notions about energy are deeply supply-biased and growth-oriented, so that wide-ranging policy innovation is, in fact, needed in order to realise the objective of using energy as an instrument of sustainable human development. Moreover, the transition to sustainable energy is necessarily affected by numerous institutional impediments and shaped by current trends sweeping the world. The latter include globalisation, marketisation, popular participation in decision-making, the changing roles of government, restructuring (and corporatisation) of energy utilities, and the changing magnitude and mix of sources of external funding.

From the international to local imperatives it is quite clear that poverty and sustainability are priority issues and that our cities and Provincec has a lot to gain from a sustainable energy development path.

The role of city energy strategies in making a more sustainable energy path a reality

Local authorities are not only great consumers of energy but have the power and responsibility to initiate and manage a more sustainable energy path. The development of local Energy & Climate Change Strategies in our South African Cities is a key step towards institutionalising sustainable energy approaches and practices within the municipality.

Energy plays central role in the functioning of cities and yet South African cities are very new to current global energy debates. South Africa has ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is one of the developing world’s heaviest carbon emitters: this means that, while we are not yet obligated, South African cities should become part of leading the way in reducing carbon emissions. Driven by issues of climate change & inspired by cost savings & better service delivery, other cities around the world are making pioneering & cutting edge interventions to address their energy issues in an integrated way. This is having far reaching implications for these cities in terms of social development, environmental sustainability, service delivery, citizen involvement and resource efficiency.

For local governments, sustainability means thinking, planning and acting in the long-term, examining all the impacts of decisions made today with tomorrow in mind. Local governments make decisions affecting land use, building codes, transportation systems and waste disposal, and each of these decisions impacts energy use.

A City Energy Strategy is a plan that aims to integrate and entrench sustainable energy approaches and practices at the local level, within a framework that has a clear vision and direction. It will prioritise and co-ordinate ad hoc energy projects and activities, and will help to integrate energy objectives into relevant functions and programs. It can improve service delivery and quality of life, save money & reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will assist the city in building its overall city development strategy. Energy is the backbone of the city, and, while being very specific, it is also an entirely cross-cutting sector which has serious social, economic and environmental impacts. As such, an energy strategy provides a means for cities to work with and implement integrated development planning and so build their ability to apply this throughout the city. The detrimental impacts of modern energy consumption practices cannot be reversed overnight, so sustainable energy planning must be an ongoing, dynamic activity.

In November 2003 Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA), the South African Cities Network (SACN) and the City of Cape Town successfully hosted the "City Energy Strategies Conference". This was done in association with the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and endorsed by UNEP. The conference was well attended by high-level decision makers nationally and locally. An outcome of the conference was the Cities Energy Declaration challenging cities to set a more sustainable energy path for them.

SEA is a non-profit organisation working nationally to build capacity in civil society and local governments to think more strategically and sustainably about energy so as to address the often "invisible" economic, social and environmental impacts and opportunities of energy.

We do so through partnership development, public education & training, information development and dissemination, promoting networking and information exchange, project implementation and lobbying.

We focus on urban areas and are helping towns, cities and provinces develop local sustainable energy & climate change strategies.

Visit for more information. Contact: Leila Mahomed 021 702 3622 or [email protected]



Goldemberg, J, 1996, Energy, Environment & Development, Earthscan, London

SEA, 2003, Cape Town State of Energy Report, City of Cape Town, Cape Town