The quest for cleaner energy

Welcome to the last article in the Thrive EnviroQuiz 2017 series looking at sustainable energy and transport.

Clean energy and clean transport offers us a future with better health, a better environment and reduced costs.

In South Africa we are uniquely blessed with large amounts of free sunshine that we should be harnessing for our energy needs.

However, by using dirty inefficient fossil fuels instead we are in fact fighting against this natural resource.

The northern parts of South Africa are some of the best places in the world to install large-scale solar energy production facilities and many sites along the coast work very well for wind.

These energy sources can supply all the energy South Africa needs and more. Other countries are investing in renewables to secure their energy needs, and there’s no reason why we should not follow suit.

In May 2017, Germany hit a new high in renewable energy generation. Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point the country’s solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed. That is 87% of Germany’s energy needs provided from clean power.

Similarly, in May 2016, Portugal ran for four days completely on renewables. What’s interesting to bear in mind is that South Africa’s peak usage is currently around 27 GW and we have twice the insolation (sun power) of Germany and a lot more available space.

This sounds very good but there are always questions about what happens when the sun goes down and the wind doesn’t blow, and how do we get this energy to the place it is needed. This is where the confluence of technologies starts to get interesting.

The improvement in battery technology means that reliable grid level energy storage is possible. In other words we can now store enough energy to meet our current and future daily requirements. Multi-container battery storage systems can be installed in a local area to:

1 Absorb the renewable energy;

2 Manage peak energy requirement; and

3 Supply energy when the renewable sources are not generating.

These systems are also very cost effective. Pumped storage and natural gas peaking plants can also be used to balance energy requirements if the amounts from renewable sources are not enough. Natural gas systems are lower in carbon emissions than coal and these peaking plants can be brought on-line extremely quickly.

Community solar installations are being installed in fields on the outskirts of towns around the world to reduce both the strain on the grid and the need for expensive and large-scale coal and nuclear power production.

Many companies are installing solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on office roofs and parking lots, while more and more individual homes too are doing the same to reduce their energy costs. Many of these systems also have the ability to feed excess energy produced back into the grid so energy produced is never wasted.

What also becomes interesting is the introduction of battery electric vehicles (EVs).

When EVs are plugged into an electricity network, fed with renewable energy, they really do become completely zero emission vehicles. A key component of these EVs is a big battery (20 to 100 kWh) and they can be plugged into a house to provide energy to the house. These batteries can help cover load shedding and reduce grid peaking (rush hour for electricity).

Major EV manufacturers already provide this technology and they even have systems that will use the old EV battery packs to exclusively power the home, giving the packs a second life. So adoption of EV technology does not only reduce costs but also improves clean energy supply, local air quality and health.

The future of clean energy and transport has already arrived and many forward thinking countries are supporting the adoption of this technology with viable feed-in tariffs for local energy producers, country wide charging networks for EVs and tax incentives for clean tech. The technology is here, isn’t it time we caught up and started to seriously drive a cleaner future?

Thank you for reading these articles, I hope you found them interesting and enlightening. If you have any questions, or would like to know more, contact me via our website at

I’ll leave you with a piece of sustainable thinking – “Know, Choose and Share” – rinse and repeat!


1 True or false: South Africa is a country well suited to solar power installations

2 True or false: Wind power plants are generally best situated inland in South Africa.

3 Name two countries mentioned in the article that are renewable energy leaders.

4 Approximately how much energy does South Africa need at peak use?

5 What technology has improved to make it possible to store large amounts of solar energy?

6 Why does solar energy need to be stored effectively?

7 How does a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell produce energy?

8 What is an EV?

9 True or false: Old EV batteries can be re-used to power a home

10 Fill in the missing word: Petrol stations are out and _______ stations are in.


1. True

2. False

3. Germany and Portugal

4. 27 gigawatt (GW)

5. Batteries

6.To be used at night or during
peak demand

7. The sun’s rays (light) excite
electrons in silicon material,
producing electricity (voltage)

8. Electric vehicle

9. True

10. Charging