Less than ten countries in the world had adequate renewable energy policies, said World Council for Renewable Energy president Hermann Scheer at the opening session of the International Solar Energy Society (ISES) solar world congress in Johannesburg on Sunday.
Scheer added that the renewable energy technology ‘revolution' in Germany took place largely thanks to policies put in place by that country's government, which created "investment autonomy".
The policies were within a framework that was decisive and not limited by quotas, and gave a sufficient return on investment.
He added that the global renewable energy market was currently worth some $100-billion a year. This compared with the conventional energy market which was said to be worth some $400-billion a year.
ISES president Monica Oliphant noted that although the renewable industry had experienced "outstanding" growth in recent years, the global financial recession had had a negative impact on the industry. However, the industry was showing signs of recovery in the second half of the year.
Meanwhile, Scheer explained that in order to implement adequate renewable energy policies, there were a number of perceptions that needed to be changed.
The first of these perceptions was that renewable energy was often viewed as an "economic burden", which Scheer said was not true, and added that a technological energy revolution was possible.
He also said that the industry should not wait for the outcomes of negotiations, such as the Copenhagen global climate change conference in December, as a habit of "globally talking and locally postponing" was emerging.
Scheer further stated that the industrial and cultural acceptance of renewable energy was also important, and industry players should make it known that applying renewable energy was a benefit to the economy at a macro-economic level, but also a micro-economic level.
When it came to the debate concerning energy pricing, Scheer said that conventional energy prices would continue to increase because of depletion of resources, while renewable energy prices could only go down. He explained that renewable energy was essentially a technology cost, and once critical mass for manufacture was achieved, the technology costs would decrease.
"We must overcome the myth of indispensability of conventional energy," emphasised Scheer. He said that the way to do this was to showcase a project with 100% renewable energy solution. He said that once everyday people were convinced of the reliability of renewable energy, they would no longer accept postponements and delays, and would put pressure on government to speed up renewable energy deployment.
Scheer also said that renewable energy should take priority in the research and development field.
Finally, Scheer said that the debate about time was probably the most important at present, and said that renewable energy needed to be introduced faster. He gave the example of the spread of information and communications technology, which did not need policies to stimulate investment, and the sector has grown phenomenally over recent years.
He stressed that renewable energy could provide energy security and improve lives.
"We can show, with the technology, that this is possible. But it is only possible if people use this chance and become active, and activate people in society. And the best keyword that we should use for this is ‘possiblists', because what is possible should be implemented in the fastest possible way," asserted Scheer.
Other speakers at the opening session of the conference concurred, and World Wide Fund for Nature climate change programme manager Richard Worthington said that renewable energy technologies should be grown "as fast as is humanly possible".
He added that limiting the growth of the sector with targets was perhaps not the best way to encourage growth of the industry.
"Renewable energy will, and must shape our future," emphasised Oliphant.
"The time for solar energy has arrived," reiterated Department of Energy clean energy division head David Mahuma, who added that South Africa had taken a "huge step forward" when it signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) on Friday.
The MOU would "level the playing field for the private investor, for concentrated solar power (CSP) on a large scale. Things will be done upfront, and in large volumes," he said.
Mahuma also highlighted the potential that renewable energy had to contribute to the regional Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).
He said that renewable energy should be added into the energy mix of the SAPP, and not exclusively hydro power such as that coming from Inga, and highlighted CSP as particular contributor.