PV panels in the Mojave Desert, California. Credit: Chris Brosz

+ If a nation wants to succeed in the long term, it needs to think hard about planning its energy supply and include future-proofing measures that enable installations to be upgraded.

Energy is the backbone of every civilisation, whether it is energy for the production of food or for delivering work. Indeed, the growth and demise of civilisations through history can be linked to the availability and sustainability, or not, of their selected energy sources – historians think that diminishing resources combined with climate change contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire, for example.  

So if a nation wants to succeed in the long term, it needs to think hard about planning its energy supply and include future-proofing measures that enable installations to be upgraded. This is particularly the case for developing countries that want to lift their people out of poverty; they need reliable and affordable sources of energy. 

The changes in the energy environment in South Africa are a case in point. The delays to the construction of the new coal-fired power stations in the country, combined with the aging existing coal-fired power stations, are resulting in power shortages that many people blame for the recent drop in economic growth. Without proper planning, this could be the start of a major problem. But South Africa is thinking ahead and future-proofing its energy supply. 

The successful South African renewable energy procurement programme has resulted in the award of over 8,000MW of renewable energy projects, mostly wind and photovoltaic (PV). In the first half of 2015 this investment saved the economy over R4bn more than it cost, in terms of fuel savings and by reducing power cuts. And as the capital and financing costs of these renewable energy technologies go down, the savings will increase.

When planning newer technologies such as PV, it’s important to include future-proofing measures that allow energy generation and distribution installations to be upgraded as required. 

With energy supplies planned and future-proofed, countries can look forward to brighter futures and avoid the pitfalls of the past.