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The Cycle of Energy - Can waste power SA out of its shortage?

On 10 June Italcham hosted a high-level investor webinar titled Opportunità in Sud Africa nel campo del biogas, in partnership with SABIA (South Africa Biogas Industry Association) and LE2C (Lombardy Energy Cleantech Cluster), which provided essential information on tenders and regulations governing South Africa’s biogas sector.

At a time when South Africa is famously exposed to energy interruptions, shortages and load shedding, it is vital that opportunities in the field of alternative energy are explored. Indeed, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy’ s( DMRE’s) updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) estimates a 3000 megawatt energy gap to be filled by alternative energy sources. Of this total it is estimated that 1254 megawatts (almost half) should be allocated to biogas sources, allowing for the creation of 140-thousand construction jobs and another 30-thousand administrative jobs.

With the distinguished participation of Carmen di Santo and Luca Donelli (LE2C) and Alberto Borello (SABIA), the webinar highlighted the massive business opportunities in this field. What emerged clearly from the session is that, if implemented effectively, biogas could solve two problems at once. With South Africa producing 104 million tons of waste per year, 31 million being organic waste, an opportunity presents itself for closer collaboration between the agricultural and energy clusters. According to Borello, if these advantages are linked to international best practices where circular economy has emerged as a solution to tackle waste-related issues, biogas truly represent a silver bullet to the energy production dilemma in South Africa.

Challenges to the development of the biogas industry in South include difficulties related to waste management, which is not only inefficiently collected due to a lack of resources, but it is also characterized by limited know-how. Moreover, the lack of accurate data collection and record keeping contributes to make the forecasts on the available resources for biogas industry highly unpredictable. This particular environment contributes to a heavy penalization of the biogas industries.

The opportunities presented by the biogas sector are more salient than ever in a context of renewed environmental concerns, growing attention with regards to circular economy and the pursuit of alternative solutions to meet human needs on a highly-populated, overex-ploited and highly unequal world. Given the high level of complexity and the awareness that the the renewable energy sector requires, the Chamber’s webinar highlighted that a high level of cooperation and information-sharing is crucial in order to promote the potential of the biogas sector. What’s more, if businesses can cooperate with government to respond to local realities and achieve shared clarity on relevant regulation, biogas can represent a leap forward towards more sustainable, inclusive and safe energy management in South Africa.