A striking aspect of President Barack Obama’s proposed energy blueprint (a document, which, like everything else in the US, is being strongly contested and debated) is its use of plain language, as well as some of its visible and easy-to-grasp targets.
The US document, one could even argue, stands in strong contrast to South Africa’s own Integrated Resource Plan for electricity, which, despite its many positives, is dense, somewhat academic in tone and lacking in any kind of popular appeal.
An interesting example of some of the high-profile aspirations contained within the blueprint is a target for the US Air Force to procure half of its jet fuel from alternative sources by 2016. The US Navy and the departments of Energy and Agriculture, meanwhile, have been directed to work with private firms to create advanced biofuels able to power fighter jets, trucks and commercial airliners.
By 2015, Obama wants all the federal government’s new cars and trucks to be either alternative-fuel vehicles, hybrids or electric. The plan also proposes a material upscaling in electric car use across the country and urges that 80% of electricity be derived from clean-energy sources by 2035.
Another key theme is the visible lead being taken not only by the President but also by the public sector in dealing with what is arguably one of that country’s, as well as the rest of the world’s, most vexing puzzles: how to produce more and affordable energy, while generating less carbon dioxide.
It proposes that government supports funding for clean-energy research and development and that the federal government “models” best practices and clean energy technologies.
Likewise, South Africa needs to popularise some high-profile energy initiatives, beyond current programmes to galvanise support for power conservation and energy efficiency, such as the ‘49m’ campaign. Here, too, government and top government leaders should take the lead.
A few suggestions? I would propose that all government leaders and officials be encouraged to procure not only smaller, more fuel efficient cars, but even alternative-fuel vehicles, or hybrids. This could create a platform for the domestic production of energy efficient vehicles. Vehicle fleet procurement programmes at municipal level should, meanwhile, seek not only to balance affordability and local production, but also to embrace energy efficient models.
Similarly, green building techniques and materials should be integrated into most public works programmes. All street lighting roll-outs should embrace the latest in energy efficient designs and technology, while all new hospitals, schools and government offices should become shop fronts for solar heating, efficient lighting and improved building techniques.
The projects should be high-profile, branded (along the lines of ‘Working for Water’), embrace locally produced products and, where possible, homegrown solutions.
If the public sector leads in this area, the private sector will surely follow.