Renewable Energy and Rural OpportunitiesUkuyila
The beauty of renewable energy is that it naturally replenishes itself through sunlight, wind, tides, waves, rain, biomass and geothermal heat. Year by year our energy demands increase, while our supply of raw materials diminishes. Clearly, urgent and innovative action needs to be taken.
Preparing for renewables is vital, together with the training required to leverage this option to the fullest extent for the wide range of concomitant (accompanying) employment opportunities that are bound to arise, both in urban and rural settings.
Africa is the continent with the most sun on earth, not to mention a long coastline with strong wind and wave power – all of which are currently under-utilised. Ironically, it is also the continent that struggles the most to provide affordable energy to all its people – a process that is viewed as crucially supportive to the reduction of poverty and improvement of economic growth.
The growth of accessible, affordable power
Development of the rural areas with regard to agriculture, education, communication and technology requires the sustainable provision of electricity. Solar and wind energy stand ready to fill this gap where accessible. The potential of our rural landscapes promises energy industry at many levels, and can create an array of employment opportunities, but there are still issues to contend with.
- Currently, millions of people in rural areas have little or no access to electricity and are forced to rely on paraffin, charcoal and firewood.
- While there have been significant improvements in access to electricity since 1994, approximately 16% of the population still has no power. Currently, the national grid does not reach remote rural areas.
- Renewable energy can make a difference, particularly with regard to off-grid solutions that don’t require recipients to be connected to the national grid.
- The high cost of renewable energy technology remains an obstacle, but is envisioned to improve considerably as more people move into the service. The more efficient it becomes and the more widely used, the more inexpensive it will become.
- Fortunately, South Africa has an abundance of renewable energy resources that, once harnessed, can effectively supply the country’s energy needs.
Jobs in solar energy
So how do these facts play up against the desperate need for jobs in rural areas? It is pleasing to note that jobs in solar, biomass and wind energy are developing rapidly worldwide. The sector currently provides about 20% of the world’s total power (including hydro-power) – and rural areas in particular stand to benefit from this.
- Rural areas can more easily provide the infrastructure required for renewable energy because farms in many areas have the right natural attributes, particularly for solar power: flat land, plenty of space and sunshine, less populated by humans or animals.
- The extra income generated means more people can be employed – whether directly in the renewable industry or indirectly in affiliated industries. Farmers will have more money to expand their crops, which will, in turn, create more jobs.
- Ancillary industries will grow on the back of the renewable industry, creating jobs and a spectrum of business opportunities that arise when more people are earning money. More jobs increase the tax base which, in turn, provides more money for government to provide much-needed services.
- The introduction of electricity to any area begins a chain reaction that leads to economic activity and progress. Jobs can arise in operating and maintaining renewable energy equipment, but can also develop along the supply chain in spheres such as manufacturing and specialised services.
- Innovations in products and services will bloom in rural areas, new technologies will be tested, learning will be stimulated and new business niches will grow.
- Investment will escalate from top down, thus benefiting local populations at all levels.
- Renewable energy affords remote regions the opportunity to produce their own energy, thus ensuring gravitation towards more economic development.
- An affordable and dependable power supply is necessary to develop communication, education, agriculture, industrialisation, and even entertainment.
While arguably expensive to initiate, renewable energy is ultimately deemed more viable because it will cost less in the long term, unlike the cost projections for conventional electricity supply. The cost of drawing electricity from large-scale power plants is going to escalate in the next few years to a point where upliftment of poorer areas could become extremely challenging. Investing in renewable energy now will not only bring relief to these areas, but trigger positive knock-on effects with regard to future job opportunities.
Managing projects, seeing results
Casidra is the acronym for Cape Agency for Sustainable Integrated Development in Rural Areas. Casidra implements and manages projects specifically designed to improve the lives of people and alleviate poverty. With our mandate as Agricultural and Economic Development within a Rural and Land reform context, we see ourselves as a catalyst for growth and sustainability, maximising outcomes by ensuring that we make a difference in people’s lives through effective project management.