NEWS

South Africa’s Plan to Move Away From Coal – 8 Steps to Make It Succeed

The South African government’s Just Energy Transition Implementation Plan was launched in November 2023. It is a roadmap guiding the country away from reliance on coal-fired power towards renewable energy alternatives by 2027. It aims to include all communities and workers who will be affected by the energy transition.

 

The plan says everyone should have access to electricity through a mix which includes renewable energy. This energy transition must also create new employment opportunities, particularly in the burgeoning renewable energy sector, and contribute to economic development. At the same time, it must set up an energy future where power is reliable and not disrupted.

 

These are ambitious goals. Yet the urgency of South Africa’s energy transition cannot be overstated. As one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, South Africa faces increasing pressure to curb its carbon footprint. But the transition to cleaner energy sources must not come at the expense of marginalised communities or make socio-economic inequality worse.

 

I research energy transitions and women’s empowerment in these renewable energy projects. I argue that the Just Energy Transition Implementation Plan must take eight critical steps if it is to succeed. These include mobilising different forms of international finance, investing in new infrastructure and involving communities. Without these steps the plan lacks the foundation to shift South Africa towards a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

 

Progress so far

The South African government has started reforms to stimulate private investment in renewable energy infrastructure and establish a competitive electricity market. Before this, independent power producers had to go through a detailed, often lengthy process to get a generating licence.

 

The government has removed licensing requirements for independent power producers, making it easier for them to launch and manage energy projects of any size. This aims to attract more independent producers to the energy market, fostering investment and innovation.

 

The government also introduced tax incentives and rebates. These allowed businesses to reduce their taxable income to reflect the decreasing value of renewable energy installations over time. This encourages more investment in clean energy infrastructure.

 

The government has also provided debt relief to Eskom, South Africa’s state-owned utility. This allows Eskom to invest in renewable energy infrastructure and grid upgrades. It also gives Eskom the space to pay for projects mitigating the impacts of the transition on communities and workers.

One such initiative is the Komati Power Station Just Energy Transition project, which involves decommissioning the coal-fired power station and transitioning to renewable energy sources. The debt relief package prohibits Eskom from borrowing any more money. However, the South African Renewable Energy Masterplan, part of the plan, aims to assemble international pledges, low interest concessional loans from development finance institutions, and private sector investment to pay for the transition.

 

What needs to be done

There are eight critical steps that will make the Just Energy Transition Implementation Plan work. These are:

 

1) Continuously improve the mechanisms that facilitate project approvals and attract investors, including cooperatively owned projects. This broadens the participation in the renewable sector by including cooperatively owned renewables. It also helps it grow by diversifying the investment base and enhancing community involvement.

 

2) Prioritise just transition principles. Make sure that fairness guides every part of the shift to cleaner energy. Give extra attention to communities and workers who might be hurt by the changes. Take specific actions to tackle unfairness, such as making sure everyone can afford energy, creating new jobs, and helping people gain new skills.

 

3) Promote community engagement and participation: Actively involve local communities and indigenous groups in the shift to renewable energy. This means listening to their voices and making decisions together. Projects must be set up that communities can own and benefit from equally. This collaborative approach aims to share the advantages of clean energy fairly among everyone involved.

 

4) Maximise international support and financing. Continue to work with other countries, investor groups and development finance institutions. The aim must be to bring in more money and help for the just energy transition.

 

5) Promote renewable energy investment. Encourage private sector investment by offering enticing policies, clear regulations and new financing options. This involves building public-private partnerships between the government and those developing renewable energy.

 

6) Invest in more infrastructure and in modernising the grid. Upgrading and expanding the electrical grid will allow it to include more energy from solar and wind power. Renewables can generate a lot of power on a windy or sunny day and much less when it’s calm or cloudy. The grid needs to be flexible enough to maintain a steady and reliable power supply without power outages. Electricity access must be improved in areas that currently have limited or no power, so that more communities benefit.

 

7) Foster skills development and local capacity building. Boost training and education in renewable energy for local communities and workers. This can be done by working closely with schools, businesses, and government to set up new training programmes.

 

8) Monitor and evaluate progress. Set up systems to check how close we are to our goals and find ways to get better. Make this public so that trust is built and everyone supports the move towards cleaner energy.

 

Ricardo Amansure, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Sustainability Transitions, Stellenbosch University

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