Renewable energy is cool. It’s clean, it’s technologically advanced, provides jobs and is cheaper than fossil fuels. In Africa particularly, it is a great way to provide electricity to remote regions that are expensive to connect to a centralised grid. All fantastic reasons for banks who finance energy projects to jump right on it.
And South Africa’s own Standard Bank is talking the talk. In a recent article, the bank’s head of power and global head of power and infrastructure waxed lyrical about the opportunities for renewable energy in Africa. Not to be outdone, the bank’s outlet in Ghana enthused about the environmental benefits of their new solar powered ATMs.
What keeps us up at night though, is that while Standard Bank seems excited by the prospects of renewable energy it continues to fund coal. Not just existing coal plants (which we need to phase out anyway), but new coal. Not just new coal plants that have fewer emissions than old coal plants, but Thabametsi, a coal plant that, if built, will have worse emissions than some of South Africa’s oldest coal fired power stations.
We’re excited by a renewable energy future and the diverse opportunities associated with it too. Building new coal plants though may mean a much bleaker future for Africa – already hit by multiple weather related impacts exacerbated by climate change. No matter how much banks like Standard Bank, and even the Development Bank of Southern Africa talk the renewable energy talk, as long as they are financing coal plants, our shiny dream of a renewable energy future will be obscured by a thick coating of black coal dust and soot.