Renewable alternatives critical to support Mpumalanga’s decarbonisation drive

20th January 2022 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Creamer Media Reporter

The transformation and decarbonisation of the South African energy system is gathering momentum; however, a regional plan is required for the coal mining region of Mpumalanga, to prevent considerable economic and socioeconomic losses and ensure a just transition, and a push for renewable energy in the province has the potential to achieve that transition.

This is according to the South Africa Benefits study report: 'From coal to renewables in Mpumalanga: Employment effects, opportunities for local value creation, skills requirements, and gender-inclusiveness', which was published on January 18.

The report analyses and quantifies the socioeconomic implications of re-purposing coal-fired power plants in Mpumalanga through the deployment of renewable energy.

The analysis emphasises opportunities related to job creation, necessary skills development with a focus on gender questions, and regional value creation and industrial opportunities in Mpumalanga.

The study also highlights important framework conditions necessary for fully harnessing these benefits.

The report is published by the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies Potsdam with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

IET and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) build on a study prepared by a consortium including the CSIR, Enertrag, Prime Africa and Navitas Energy, with financial support from Germany’s International Climate Initiative (IKI).

Renewable energy has considerable job creation potential on a national level; however, only a small portion of these jobs are in Mpumalanga owing to the renewable energy resources advantage of other provinces.

The report says that, therefore, policy initiatives are required to incentivise renewable energy in Mpumalanga, along with the coordinated effort required for reskilling and transition arrangements.

Firstly, it posits that Mpumalanga can compensate a large share of jobs lost in the declining coal sector by incentivising investment in renewable energy in the province.

Secondly, it says that, by deploying renewable and clean energy technologies, Mpumalanga can lay the foundation for becoming the new clean energy hub of South Africa.

Lastly, it notes that the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy sources presents an opportunity to improve and enhance conditions for women working in the energy sector in Mpumalanga.

In terms of employment, some notable insights from the report include that at a national level, the job losses in the coal value chain by 2030 can be adequately replaced by renewable energy.

However, the decommissioning results in net job losses in Mpumalanga by 2030.

Therefore, during a webinar launching the report on January 20, speakers emphasised that it was critical that efforts to increase renewable energy in the province were progressed and incentivised. 

In terms of employment, IET founder David Jacobs said there was potential for 25 000 direct, 26 000 indirect and 28 000 induced clean energy jobs to be created in the province by 2030.

These are contained primarily in construction, while operations and maintenance jobs account for 20%.

The highest number of jobs are expected to be created in the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry, with the wind industry not far behind.

The report emphasises that informal skills need to be recognised to facilitate a labour force realignment, while artisans, technicians and engineers can more easily transition.

Meanwhile, the study also highlights that there are a few similarities within the coal and clean technology value chains, such as in the extraction of raw materials, beneficiation of mining materials, transportation and electrical balance of plant, which can be leveraged upon.

The province does have a focus on greening the economy currently, as seen by the different projects and initiatives that are currently planned.

While investor interest is lacking at present, the national transmission infrastructure constraints may improve the business case for developing renewable energy in Mpumalanga.

The study also emphasises the importance of skills and gender considerations in pursuing a just transition.

It notes that gender disparity in the renewable energy industry is still severe, although less so than in the coal value chain, with lower perceived barriers to entry.

Jacobs said it was critical that women be included in the renewable energy sector; however, some constraints identified included that most plants were in remote areas, which results in a security risk for women.

Moreover, some plants do not provide restrooms for women; and women engineers have to prove their capability, unlike their male counterparts.

Skills training, especially for women, requires an integrated effort, Jacobs emphasised.

There are some positives, such as renewable energy still being seen as a ‘new’ sector, therefore there is not a perception of the industry being male-dominated, compared with entrenched industries.

There are also movements and groups to leverage on, such as the Gender Diversity Working Group.