(Published - 18 October 2019)
Running a modern society takes power. Lots of power. So amidst a global environmental crisis - and South Africa’s ongoing energy issues - renewable energy is an issue that must take centre stage.
Literally - as University of the Western Cape (UWC) photovoltaic chemistry researcher Dr Natasha Ross demonstrated when she delivered a talk on South Africa’s Solar-Powered Future at the inaugural Soapbox Science Cape Town 2019 event.
“My research is motivated by the rising electricity tariffs, the unreliable and unstable electricity grid and ending our reliance on fossil fuels and depleting energy sources,” she explains. “As a chemist working in the area of renewable energy conversion and storage I wish to show how the citizens of South Africa can effectively utilise the abundant energy of the sun to tackle problems so many of us are worried about, like climate change on a global scale, air pollution in our towns, and more importantly, access to sustainable energy.”
Soapbox Science Cape Town 2019, held at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in September 2019, was a chance for the public to hear about cutting-edge research directly from some of South Africa’s finest women in science.
“Science is amazing - scientists are always developing new ideas, testing them, making discoveries, changing the world,” Dr Ross notes.
“The crowds found it very interesting to actually learn how renewable energy is converted to usable energy and how we can all do our bit to “reduce the load”on the national energy grid,” Dr Ross recalls.
So why are most of us still relying on the national (unstable and unreliable) power grid?
“South Africa should be moving towards clean energy, and solar is our cheapest option,” Dr Ross notes. “Yet, somehow, it feels as if this technology that was supposed to "usher in the beginning of a new era" is underused, underappreciated and undervalued. But if we utilise the energy of the sun, we can save our society.”
Soapbox Science South Africa: Where To From Here?
In South Africa - and worldwide - the reality is that women are in the minority in most science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related (STEM) careers, and women benefit less from opportunities afforded by a scientific education.
“I had the chance to listen to a few of the talks myself,” Dr Ross says. “I felt truly honoured to be among the selected few and to share the Soapbox stage with them.”
Led by astronomer Dr Lucia Marchetti (UCT and UWC), herself a 2015 London Soapbox Science speaker, this first South African episode was organised by a group of enthusiastic woman scientists based at UCT, UWC, iThemba LABS and SAAO.
Soapbox Science South Africa is just getting started.
“We received a total of 50 applications from all over South Africa, which is really impressive – even in comparison to some places where the event has been running for some time,” she says. “I’m thrilled that this year we could show how South Africa, and in particular South African female scientists, are contributing to the advance of science worldwide!”