The incredible impacts of South Africa’s developing clean energy sector

The incredible impacts of South Africa’s developing clean energy sector

South Africa’s clean energy capacity is evolving at a rapid rate and the once-future transition to renewable power systems is well underway. Our national commitment to sustainable energy systems can be attributed to two major concerns that need to be addressed. The first is that South Africa’s coal-powered electricity production has been under-supplying our national grid and under-serving our people for years.

The second is the overwhelming existential threat that is proposed by the catastrophic climate change occurring as a result of our centuries of carbon emissions and greenhouse gas pollution. A two-for-one solution in the form of clean, sustainable energy has the capacity to improve our national electric grid while conserving valuable resources that have been in overuse worldwide since the 19th Century. 

Last year, the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) identified goals that South Africa’s energy sector should be aiming for in the coming years. By 2030, the IRP hopes to have renewables (solar and wind) capacity to add 22,500MW of new, sustainable power to the country’s grid, while reducing the amount of coal-powered electricity production to 11,000MW by the same time. At the moment, coal sources account for three-quarters of our national power production and has not bore out the kinds of capacity and consistency we expect from our electricity providers.

The clean energy transition has some of its own concerns too. Clean energy is becoming more affordable every year, but it is still inaccessible to many South Africans who are in difficult socio-economic circumstances. It is important that the clean energy sector makes additional strides towards integrating the large lower income and poor South African populations that need power. The benefits of improved electrical systems need to be accessible to all South Africans and not just the top ten percent.

The environmentally friendly processes associated with renewable power production are inherently beneficial to anyone who occupies this planet, however more needs to be done in order to have a significant and constructive socio-economic impact. This includes affordability, accessibility, competitive markets, government support and the reskilling of the thousands of coal workers who will need job support post the clean energy transition.

The Head of Eskom’s Just Energy Transition Project Office, Mandy Rambharos, stated that “The global and local energy landscapes are changing, which means that the transition is already underway. It is up to us, acting collaboratively, to actively ensure that this transition is just. For us, sustainable economic growth of the country, socio-economic prosperity and environmental protections are the cornerstones of our just energy transition pathway.”

South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Environmental Resources Management (ERM), led by an organisation called RES4Africa, developed  A Just Energy Transition in South Africa report. This report explores the impact of the clean energy transition on labour markets, employment figures and job creation, as well as the impact on jobs held within the coal power sector. In addition, the report consolidated the skills required for entering into the clean energy sector and a plan for the reskilling of workers who are left out by shrinking coal power production.

A reskilling framework plan was devised as a necessary and significant part of the overall IRP and Just Energy Transition goals. The study has shown that the overall balance of jobs created and lost during the transition to low-carbon energy systems trend positive. More jobs will be created in the transition than are lost. The renewable energy sector will have the opportunity to combat our years of high unemployment and create industries, where local workers are appreciated and have real job security, in a truly sustainable sector.

Increasing clean energy production, job opportunities and electricity access are all key aspects of South Africa’s Sustainable Development Goals which are all influenced very positively by the clean energy transition. In addition to being part of a growing industry (rather than a shrinking one) former coal miners and plant workers will be employed in much cleaner, safer and healthier working environments. This will have a hugely positive impact on the health and wellbeing of those workers.

Roberto Vigotti, who is the Secretary General of the RES4Africa Foundation, reiterated the sentiment that “understanding the socio-economic impacts of moving to a low-carbon energy market is crucial to ensuring that the energy transition occurs in a just way, leaving no one behind. Through this study, we hope to support South African institutions in driving its clean and just energy transition.”

It is of vital importance that we continue our fast-developing clean energy sector and make sure it is welcoming and accessible to all South Africans, wherever they may be and however much they make. For the benefit of our people and all people, we must move towards sustainable energy solutions that protect our planet and reverse our overuse of Earth’s vital resources.

Solar 4 Life have taken up the challenge to help create a sustainable and affordable clean energy sector. Our solar panel systems are built to supply or supplement power to families and organisations across the country. For more information, get in touch with our helpful and informative team at Solar 4 Life.