IRENA Hosts Workshop on Bringing Renewables to Scale

1 December 2011: On the margins of the Durban Climate Change Conference, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) hosted a workshop for journalists that looked at different aspects of bringing renewables to scale in South Africa and elsewhere, such as governmental policy, financing and the role of private sector actors.

Gerret Kruiyswijk highlighted the role of South Africa's Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) in partnering with developers and helping them make renewable energy economically viable. The IDC is also interested in ensuring that there is community ownership in renewables and that the industry created local jobs. He noted that the single most important factor for the development of a renewable energy industry is having continuity in governmental policy. For example, he said the guaranteed off-take for renewables from South Africa's state-owned electricity company was a crucial policy for the development of the sector.

George Minguni welcomed the participating journalists to the workshop on behalf of South Africa's Department of Energy. He highlighted the importance of climate change and energy issues and the need to more clearly communicate key facts to the public, provided details on South Africa's Integrated Resource Plan, and described its objectives on renewable energy.

Saliem Fakir from WWF and the South African Renewable Initiative (SARI) also highlighted the importance of having long-term certainty in order for renewables to be economically viable. Nevertheless, he highlighted that the price gap between traditional sources of energy (such as coal) and renewables is shrinking and said climate financing will be crucial, especially in South Africa where borrowing costs are particularly high.

Sakkie Leimecke from Nedbank noted that its work on renewables in South Africa had been successful, partly because of the key role played by government (alongside other stakeholders) in creating an enabling environment for renewable energy. In terms of bringing down finance costs for renewables in South Africa, he identified several key factors, including long-term continuity in the sector, reducing perceived political risk and creating economies of scale.

Lettemieke Mulder looked at the issue from the point of view of First Solar, a producer of PV panels which manufactures in the US, Malaysia and Germany. She highlighted the important role government policies had played in helping to establish renewable industries, for example through R&D subsidies and feed-in-tariffs. However, she highlighted the importance of governments identifying the objectives of their programs (eg energy security or job creation) and designing their programs appropriately.

During the discussion, journalists inquired about, inter alia: the effectiveness of carbon capture and storage and whether there were other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of coal; what effect a climate fund would have on capital costs; and whether a feed-in-tariff program would be effective in South Africa. [IISD RS Sources] [IRENA communication on workshops at COP 17]