Technology is a critical accelerator in the efforts to implement climate change actions, and according to South African National Energy Development Institute energy efficiency and data & knowledge management GM Barry Bredenkamp, there is a major shift in the design of energy-consuming products, as developers are taking the potential impacts of climate change into consideration.
This is evident in hydrogen-driven mobility solutions for trains and ships, smart building technologies, light fidelity and light-emitting- diode technologies, besides others.
Small- and large-scale renewable-energy technologies solutions are also developing at a rapid rate and digitalisation is inevitable, he adds.
Further, the continued drive towards net zero solutions can be achieved only through technological innovation, and most manufacturers of goods and services are incorporating energy efficiency into their design parameters, which certainly will result in a positive change in terms of the way that energy is used in the short to medium term, explains Bredenkamp.
However, to prioritise technology, countries will be required to emphasise resources for innovative efforts, enhance public and private partnerships in research and development, as well as demonstrate climate technologies.
Bredenkamp believes that South Africa has the resources and capacity to research, develop and implement innovative technology.
He explains that South African researchers have proven that they can excel in this area, with a lot of international and local collaboration among universities, technology developers and multi-lateral agencies, such as intergovernmental organisations like the International Renewable Energy Agency and the International Energy Agency, which ensures a level playing field because all countries, both developed and developing, get equal access to global innovation in the areas of technology and policy development.
“However, the problem in South Africa is the general decline in funding for energy and climate research over the years, notwithstanding the fact that our energy challenges [have] significantly worsened since 2008.”
Bredenkamp adds that, unfortunately, the fiscus has limited financial resources and South Africa is facing many challenges such as the lack of access to healthcare, housing, water and other basic services.
If South Africa finds innovative solutions to its climate and energy challenges, “we will inevitably see an improvement in these other areas and address many additional socioeconomic challenges such as job creation and indoor air-quality”.
The challenge, however, is to find a balance between all the pressing needs facing the country, Bredenkamp adds.
He says that South Africa can benefit “immensely” by embracing the development and implementation of innovative, clean technologies to address pressing climate change challenges. The acceleration of technological innovation will, in turn, help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“Unfortunately, some of these technological innovations come at a high cost and it is incumbent upon governments to find ways of addressing these initial upfront capital costs of technology,” says Bredenkamp.
The challenge is more financial than technological, and this must be addressed at COP26, as South Africa and other countries cannot rely solely on instruments such as carbon taxes to bring about technological change.
Further, harnessing technological innovation is a prerequisite for countries to smoothly implement their Nationally Determined Contributions. South Africa aims to achieve decarbonisation through the electricity sector and low-emission vehicles, he notes.
“The country is already showing a commitment to this drive through the Presidential Infrastructure Programme, the relaxation of the licensing requirements for renewable- energy installations below 100 MW, the National Energy Efficiency Strategy and the Renewable Energy Integrated Power Programme besides others.”
A lot of work is also being done to create the recharging infrastructure for electric vehicles, and even research into the introduction of hydrogen fuel cells for mobility applications is being funded, he adds.
This, however, can only be effectively achieved locally through collaboration among a broad range of institutions and networks.
“South Africa, therefore, needs to continue building on existing relationships both locally and internationally. We further need to be active members in these collaboration efforts and we need to participate fully in the research,” concludes Bredenkamp.