A recently released renewable energy (RE) report estimated that more than 26,000 people were employed in South Africa's RE industry over the past four years, despite the poor support it receives from the government.
According to the report, from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena), jobs in RE could more than double from 9.8m in 2016 to 24m in 2030.
The government’s significant support for developing nuclear energy, means that South Africa is missing the opportunity to create more jobs and even entrepreneurs through renewables, says Siphokazi Pangalele, Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute’s (Safcei) youth ambassador
Bias towards nuclear
“The future looks bleak for young South Africans, with more than a third of us unable to find work. It is ironic that this year’s Youth Month theme was Advancing Youth Economic Empowerment, when government’s bias toward nuclear (over renewables) is sabotaging our chances for more widespread economic empowerment,” says Pangalele.
“The Department of Energy’s bias was further reiterated when the minister only highlighted a few hundred jobs created from nuclear while completely omitting any mention of jobs created in the RE sector. Then there’s also government and Eskom’s reluctance to sign the outstanding power purchase agreements (PPA) for private renewable projects. Another indication of government’s lack of support for RE,” she says.
“If SA’s RE sector received more support from government, this industry could have had an even bigger impact on our society by now. Instead, we are working with outdated policies, an impractical bidding process and rely too heavily on private investors to drive development in RE. These are all obstacles to innovation and employment creation in this sector.”
Decentralised RE is the future and our policies, and electricity infrastructure should be better equipped to support the RE market requirements. Government should invest in training and education, as well as upgrading to a smart energy grid for a greener, cheaper and more equitable energy future for all South Africans, adds Pangalele.
Mini grids and hybrid systems
The Department of Labour also recognises that a key benefit of RE is it can be deployed in rural communities far from the national grid. Decentralised mini grids and hybrid systems could promote the development of small medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs). Global trends further indicate a significant rise in employment opportunities created along the different segments of the RE value chain, with increasing requirements for individuals with diverse skill-sets and talents.
The Institute for Sustainable Futures also suggests that the RE industry could create approximately 180,000 new jobs in SA, by 2030. But this can only be achieved if government actively supports the development of the local renewable energy industry.
“SA’s youth needs government to be realistic and sensible in its energy choices, particularly as it relates to creating opportunties for the country’s youth,” adds Pangalele.