Fossil Fuels vs Renewables – Is it Black and White?

fossil fuels vs renewables

The fossil fuel industry is one of the most controversial and polarising topics: it has given rise to, amongst other things, economic expansion and increased independence of countries (the United States and its shale boom), shifting countries’ status (Saudi being impoverished until 1930’s thanks to its oil expansion making it a serious world player with 515.6 billion USD in sovereign wealth funds).

We have come to understand the popular argument against fossil fuels – perhaps best summarised by United States President Joe Biden: “fossil fuels pollute the earth and renewable energy needs to replace it.” The world is seeing more political pressures to comply with renewables, however, what may surprise many is that though the topic itself is polarizing, it is not a clear-cut process and not one which is always black and white. It has been suggested that fossil fuel giants need to work with renewable companies, and renewables work with the fossil fuel companies to facilitate the more “pro-earth” processes and not stand in stark opposition to one another.

Traditional energy can keep up with demand even when spikes occur – a reliability factor which renewable energy lacks. California has paid neighbouring states to take solar energy at risk of grid blowouts – a problem which is not shared in South Africa. South Africa has only 9–14% in renewables with the United States at 10% of its energy coming from renewable sources. There is also no mass storage system for the storing of renewables yet, the costs involved in renewables are still high, and in terms of land, it takes 450 times more space to generate the same amount of electricity as it does from nuclear energy. Land also needs to be cleared of all wildlife in the designated areas of construction, which results in many animals being transported where they end up dying (not to mention birds dying in wind turbines, a problem raised by United States activist groups). There is of course the inconsistency of wind and solar sources while storage remains an ongoing challenge. Clearly these factors point less to mechanical and political challenges but more to natural “earth” challenges. This is an important point to bear in mind, while much blame and anger is justifiably directed to the majors for their role in pollution and stubborn pushback, there are natural elements which are not in their control and they cannot be blamed for.

On a local scale, South Africa seeks to effect section 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 as seen in recent legislative amendments in the MPRDA and NEMA (for example the Waste Management Act 59 of 2008 and National Water Act 36 of 1998) which provides for “one environmental system” to uphold South Africa’s environmental management.

This, coupled with the country’s desire to promote justifiable social and economic development while balancing these factors with ecologically sound and sustainable measures (Bengwenyama Minerals (Pty) Ltd and Others v Genorah Resources (Pty) and Others) is no easy task and will require input from various role players in the parliamentary and private spheres.

As stated, given the complexity of the matter and all its ancillary issues, collaboration and innovation are essential to solving natural and structural challenges.

If you require any assistance to help regulate your energy-related company, business and financial ventures, do not hesitate to contact us for assistance.


Faure Swanepoel
Candidate Attorney


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