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Zirk Botha rowing solo across the Atlantic Ocean in his boat Ratel

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Solo Atlantic Voyager Zirk Botha tells the Energy Transition Story

“Dream big, do big, Live a Great Adventure!” – Zirk Botha

“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. Security is a myth”. This challenging Helen Keller quote was the finale to South African adventurer Zirk Botha’s account to fellow staff at juwi Renewable Energies, of his remarkable 7200km transatlantic solo row from Cape Town, South Africa, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Starting in December 2020 and finishing the trip 71 days later in February 2021, juwi’s economic development manager completed a completely unsupported voyage to raise awareness of climate change, the harmful impact of irresponsible consumerism and the need for sustainable development.

“In the same way that I had to be completely self-sustaining for 71 days, using solar panels to power my water maker, navigation and communications equipment, humans collectively need to become more self-sustaining  to survive on a planet with rapidly diminishing resources,” said Botha.

“juwi’s vision is 100% renewable energy and it is increasingly clear that many businesses can get there with energy management and storage. It is possible to meet all energy and water needs in a completely sustainable and renewable way.”

Botha’s daily schedule was gruelling – rowing for 10.5 hours a day for 71 days across an often windswept, turbulent ocean, with swells up to eight metres high. “I experienced days of relentlessly heavy winds and swells, being bucked around, hoping the boat would not capsize – it was like being in a rodeo.”

“One thing that shocked me was how devoid of life the oceans were. Apart from numerous fleets of fishing vessels on the hunt, visible on my AIS, I saw very few fish and other marine animals. I wondered if overfishing was the root cause,” said Botha.

Despite the overall lack of marine life, he did have majestic moments with nature that inspired him: “I saw a pod of dolphins swimming alongside and marlins passing within a few meters of my boat, close enough for the sunlight to strike their skin, illuminating their beauty and magnificent size,” said Botha.

In completing his voyage, Botha set world records for being the first solo rower to complete the southern transatlantic route alone, and in a record time. “Dream big, do big, Live a Great Adventure – that’s absolutely my motto in life, but this trip had a greater purpose, to drive home a message that we need to put the environment first and make sustainable choices for the Earth’s future, especially regarding energy,” said Botha.

“Having a purpose made me more determined than ever to achieve my goal of completing the voyage.”

In South Africa, it may seem that the energy system is in a state of stagnancy, however, the transition is indeed underway. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REI4P) has been internationally recognised for its success in accelerating the energy transition. Despite this, renewable energy remains a fraction of the South African energy mix and energy supply remains unstable, carbon-intensive and heavily reliant on vast amounts of water to produce electricity using coal. While liberalising the transmission network is key to driving an energy transition, it is but one key on a bunch.

Renewable energy technologies can be distributed and modular enabling them to be dispatched where energy is needed, reducing the need for a transmission network. South African municipalities are in a unique position to drive the energy transition because many own their distribution networks and will soon be able to procure clean energy from independent power producers (IPPs). Furthermore, large energy consumers such as factories and mines are installing renewable energy where they need it, reducing their emissions profile, improving energy reliability and saving on energy bills. What is enabling this transition is cost and reliability. It is more cost effective per unit of energy to switch to clean energy. Furthermore, finance mechanisms and reputable installers are widely available, making switching to clean energy a “no-brainer” for any sensible cost-conscious entity.

juwi sponsored Zirk’s voyage because of the shared sense of purpose that Zirk’s mission has with juwi’s vision of sustainability and 100% renewable energy. “Renewable energy is increasingly significantly more affordable than fossil-fuel-based sources of electricity. Businesses and individuals simply need to acknowledge this and act on it. Fortunately, many are. Renewable energy investments made up 28% of the global total last year, up 2% on the previous year.  There is a steady shift in investment appetite away from fossil fuels and this percentage will only increase,” said Doyle.

“What Zirk did is remarkable from an individual perspective. However, it is really symbolic because it is a proxy for the greater effort we all need to make both individually and collectively if we are to realise sustainability,” said Richard Doyle, managing director of juwi South Africa.

“It takes great acts to bring about great change. Thankfully the acts that the public and private sector can take to switch to renewable energy aren’t as extreme as rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. With over 4,800 MW installed comprising 1,700 solar plants and over 1000 wind turbines, juwi prides itself on being a leading partner for organisations looking to transition to clean energy,” said Doyle.

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