Make citizens energy shareholders, says global expert

Daring Cities panellist says state frameworks will smooth way for people power to make the difference

SalTuba Co-operative committee members, from left, Xolisa Bhe, 27, Patrick Bam, 55, and Lungile ‘Lukes’ Tyali, 47, in front of the solar panel array at the SalTuba Pilot Project site in Kwazakhele
LOCAL VALUE SalTuba Co-operative committee members, from left, Xolisa Bhe, 27, Patrick Bam, 55, and Lungile ‘Lukes’ Tyali, 47, in front of the solar panel array at the SalTuba Pilot Project site in Kwazakhele
Image: Eugene Coetzee

Governments must enable citizens to become energy shareholders to help create resilience against Covid-19 and climate change, World Wind Energy Association secretary-general Stefan Gsanger said.

Gsanger was speaking during a webinar on community energy during the Daring Cities 2020 forum, organised by the Local Governments for Sustainability network and the city of Bonn earlier this week.

He said community energy was especially important in developing countries where outside investors often balked at perceived risk.

Instead of waiting for these investors to materialise, governments could solve their energy crises by turning to their own citizens, he said.

“In the developing world, we need more local ownership and to find the right frameworks.

“People there are more than happy to engage but they do not necessarily have the tools to capitalise on.

“It is not that they do not have any assets, but they do not have the frameworks in place that allow them to become shareholders,” he said.

“How do we put communities in the centre of the energy challenge?

“They know how to work, they have minds and they often own the land.

“With those aspects translated into equity, you could do a lot more.”

Gsanger’s view is in line with the long-standing call by SA’s renewable energy sector for legislation empowering citizens to generate their own clean electricity and sell the surplus to the national grid.

In so doing, government’s reliance on coal-fired power with its greenhouse emissions driving climate change would be reduced, capacity would be strengthened and sustainable income would be harnessed.

His view is also in line with the approach of the Kwazakhele SalTuba Co-operative which was unveiled recently in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Born out of the NMU Transition Township research project, SalTuba was initiated in consultation with the community, the Nelson Mandela Bay metro’s electricity directorate and half a dozen other role players.

The metro said in September that the 36 households that owned the project could expect to start receiving payments for the five kilowatts they were generating for the local grid.

Gsanger said the coronavirus had revealed another reason to push for community energy as countries were relinquishing risky international trade conduits and looked for ways to bolster home-grown assets.

“Many governments are focusing on national resilience and it is logical that community energy can and has to play an important role here as it helps to make communities and countries less vulnerable.”

Global 100% Renewable Energy co-ordinator South African Rian van Staden, who facilitated the Daring Cities webinar, said community energy was key because it provided an opportunity for citizens to recapture some control in a globalised world and “make things locally valuable again”.

Daring Cities 2020 is aimed at “disrupting business-as-usual and shifting towards business-as-possible, showcasing exemplary local action to tackle climate change and to build environmental, social and economic resilience”.

It started on October 7 and runs until October 28.

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