S. African biogas association launched to boost renewable energy drive

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The South African Biogas Industry Association (SABIA) was launched here Wednesday at the ongoing Africa Energy Indaba in a fresh bid to diversify energy resources.

The move indicates that biogas should no "longer be lumped" together with other alternative energy sources, but holds enough weight to "stand in its own category," participants said.

"Previously, the only incentive available for investing in biogas energy was that you could get preferential interest rates from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), but Eskom and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) recently introduced a rebate scheme and a grant incentive respectively that have substantially improved the financial viability of biogas projects in South Africa," SABIA Chairman Mark Tiepelt said at the launch.

Africa Energy Indaba is an annual international event that presents opportunity for energy leaders, experts and entrepreneurs to discuss ways dealing with Africa's energy poverty.

SABIA believes that biogas has long been overshadowed by other forms of renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro energy.

Tiepelt said commissioning a biogas plant however not only turns organic waste into electricity, but also has the added benefit of producing thermal energy through capturing of excess heat from the generator (CHP) which turns the often environmentally hazardous waste into usable organic compost and has the potential to change the carbon status of the operation to being carbon neutral.

The methane can also be used as vehicular fuel to run cars, taxis and busses. On a domestic level, biogas is used worldwide for cooking purposes, for lighting and to heat water.

"I believe biogas has the potential to create an entire new industry in South Africa with a market potential in excess of 10 billion rands. Conservatively calculated the industry can produce in the region of 2.5 GW of electricity and create thousands of job opportunities at the same time," Tiepelt said.

Tiepelt believes that the time has come for biogas to takes it rightful place in the renewable energy sector in South Africa and to "play catch-up" to other countries such as India that has more than 12 million rural biogas plants.

"This is the game changer that the biogas industry needs," he said at the two-day conference.

South Africa lags behind when it comes to using biogas for energy. In South Africa there are approximately 200 small scale biogas digesters, mostly installed by non-governmental organizations

Ubuntu Energy Solutions managing director Jonathan de Magalhaes said producing energy from biogas makes sense for big scale commercial operations like agricultural concerns, dairies, piggeries, fruit and vegetable farmers, manufacturers, food processing plants, wine estates and breweries, to name a few.

These are the companies or industries that are already working with organic material, or have organic material as a by-product and have enough space to install biogas plants at their operations, he said. Endi

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