Inside our latest issue: Quest Vol. 17 No.4

Science in the News

Why do we sleep?

Despite intense research, why we sleep remains one of the most baffling questions in #neuroscience. A new Review in Science discusses why we might sleep,

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On the edge of the continental shelf at the south-eastern tip of Africa, a rocky ridge rises from the ocean floor in themurky depths some

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At the conclusion of the 26th
Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November, most participating countries as well as climate change campaigners around the world were disappointed that
the final agreement was watered down at the last minute. The key change in the agreement, known as
the Glasgow Climate Pact, called for an acceleration of efforts towards the ‘phase down’ – rather than the
‘phase out’ – of unabated coal power. This refers to coal-fired power plants
that do not implement technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,
such as carbon capture and utilisation (see page 26).
South Africa was one of the countries that had objected to the ‘phase out’ version of the agreement, given that
more than 80% of our electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. These polluting power plants are
the main contributing factor for the country being the 12th biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, but government is ramping up
efforts to increase the contribution of renewable energy to the energy mix. It is doing this not only to meet
its obligations in terms of UNFCCC treaties, but also because many of our ageing power stations need to
be ‘retired’ from service.
Indeed, Eskom CEO André De Ruyter – in delivering the 2021 Hendrik van der Bijl Memorial lecture hosted
by the University of Pretoria and the South African Academy of Engineering in August – spoke of the intention to decommission 22 GW of coal-fired generation capacity by 2035, which represents about half of the current total installed capacity. He explained that persisting with coal could lead to another era of isolation and punitive trade measures, but pivoting to “cleaner and greener” renewable energy would potentially create a competitive advantage for Cover image Shutterstock
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for effects arising there from
South African exports. What’s more, new solar and wind farms could be implemented in a quarter of the time it would take to commission a coal-fired
power station. Making the transition would be enormously costly in terms of both financial resources and job losses, he said, so Eskom is pursuing a Just Energy Transition Strategy. This aims to ensure that jobs falling away through
power station shutdowns would be replaced by those created through local manufacturing of renewable energy components – as he put it, “let’s turn our coal shovels into turbine blades”.
International partners were being approached for financing to enable this
strategy and accelerate South Africa’s decarbonisation.
A few days after the start of COP26, we heard the outcome of those discussions. The governments of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States, along with the
European Union, have joined South Africa in a Just Energy Transition Partnership, committing to provide
US$8.5 billion of financing for the first phase over the next three to five years.
The Partnership is expected to prevent up to 1.5 gigatonnes of emissions over
the next 20 years and support South Africa in moving away from coal.
The theme of this issue of Quest –my final one as Editor – focuses on
renewable energy, and since the magazine is mostly distributed to schools offering science at Grade
10–12 level, it’s hoped that the cross-section of
articles might be useful to
teachers as a curriculum related resource. Sue Matthews

Inqikithi yalesisiqephu seQuest sikhuluma ngokuphehla ugesi ngamandla
elanga Kanye nezinye izindlela ezihlanzekile. Lokhu kunikeza iningizimu
Africa ithuba lokwehlisa izincolisi moya kuphinde kuxazulule nenking kagesi
ebhekene nayo.
Translated by Zamantimande Kunene