Experts predict SA will face similar heatwaves as Europe due to climate modelling

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While Europe is suffering heatwave upon heatwave, experts warn that similar extreme weather events will also hit South Africa in the next six months.

This can potentially lead to more deaths in vulnerable communities, like those that occurred in January of this year in Kakamas in the Northern Cape.

Climate modelling shows that within the next ten years, South Africa will experience heatwaves of unprecedented intensity and it is therefore imperative that we become far more aware of heat risks in the country.

Stable network

Upington in the Northern Cape – ideally suited for establishing solar energy plants to expand the country’s renewable energy programme in line with the 2050 net zero emissions goals.

However, this is easier said than done.

With a failing electricity network, pressure is building on government to provide a stable network, as our sense of safety and security is closely linked to our ability to keep the lights on.

This could mean that the country will rely on coal-generated electricity for longer than anticipated.
While many advocate for greener energy solutions, it might not happen overnight.

Renewable energy sources are a very divisive topic, but all agree that the country needs a well-diversified energy plan to reach our net zero goals – to be carbon neutral by 2050.

Time is however, running out

Professor Wikus van Niekerk, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Stellenbosch, elaborates.

“We won’t reach the goal by 2050. We will need money, and even if we have the money there is not enough resources and time.”

The South African government has also made provision for two-thousand-500 megawatts of nuclear energy as part of the integrated resources plan.

However, building a nuclear plant however takes time.

Nuclear Specialist at North West University, Professor Bismark Tyobeka, elaborates, “When you build a nuclear power plant in the shortest possible time, you can start to operate it based on international projects test records. One was actually 43 months in a plant called Cashua Cash Kashiwazaki Kariwa. It’s abbreviated KK 6, Unit 6 of of the K plant in in Japan, but that was never replicated, so we can safely say minimum, you need 60 months to finish. By that time, you may, if you are serious, have built up the expertise so that by year six to seven, when you put it in commissioning, you have a critical mass of skills to pick up again.”

Solar power 

The building of renewable energy sources like solar plants are cheaper than building new coal-fired power stations.
It can also be fully operational in a shorter space of time, which makes it an ideal solution to replace coal-fired power stations.

The government’s energy road map, the Integrated Resources Plan, is however already outdated because of the delay in releasing it.

If we continue to use coal-fired power stations, the most vulnerable in our society like the elderly and the poor, will likely bear the brunt of the consequences.

South Africa therefore urgently needs a climate health warning system, as Professor Francois Engelbrecht, Director of the Global Change Institute at Wits University, elaborates.

“We need to systematically adapt to more extreme temperature events, hot extremes in the Southern Africa, So that includes long term adaptation. Of course, we shouldn’t accept that our people will remain this vulnerable forever. So part of this adaptation is proper housing, naturally ventilated, buildings that then not become as hot in summer and having easy access to cool water for all our people, those are key measures that will reduce our vulnerability in the long run.”

In the meantime, internal power struggles within the African National Congress are also creating an obstacle to reach the net zero emissions goals.

If this is not resolved, experts have no hope that we will be able to avoid serious climate change events, decimating the most vulnerable.

This package was created with the support and funding from Internews’ Earth Journalism Network