South Africa’s Renewable Energy Masterplan is short sighted

  • In its comments (submitted yesterday 31 July) on the SA Renewable Energy Masterplan (SAREM) under the leadership of the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, The Green Connection highlights concerns that the plan merely focuses on renewable electricity and associated storage but lacks a vision for the wider renewable energy sector.
  • According to the eco-justice organisation, it is unclear how the SAREM fits within the energy road map, blaming the absence of an Integrated Energy Plan (IEP) as one of the reasons behind the limited consideration of South Africa’s long-term energy goals, particularly in terms of energy poverty and household-level energy security.

The Green Connection’s Energy Advocacy Officer Kholwani Simelane says, “It has been twenty-five years since the 1998 White Paper on Energy emphasized the need to focus on renewable energy, as it was a new area to explore. While, historically, resources had been directed at nuclear and fossil fuel, the intensifying climate crisis, coupled with the urgent need for a just energy transition, means we must put majority of our efforts into renewable energy sources. Therefore, if it was guided by an IEP, the SAREM could enhance the impact of renewable energy on energy-poor households. Instead, the current plan focuses on the industrialisation of the renewable energy ‘value chain’ while overlooking other household renewable energy applications such as solar water rollout. However, by emphasizing household energy security – through solar water heaters, solar cooking, and transparent tariff structures – not only will it help to save money, but it would reduce the need for loadshedding.”

Simelane adds that the ridiculously short public comment period (just two weeks) was insufficient to ensure a participatory process and promote inclusivity. Therefore, The Green Connection (supported by others) requests that the comment period be extended, to ensure that the SAREM adequately represents the whole of South African society, not only big businesses and industry. He says, “While the SAREM speaks to extensive consultation process, highlighting over 200 engagements with industry and government stakeholders, we want evidence of the engagements with civil society. Unfortunately, consultations with affected communities and household stakeholders, such as women – majority of whom bear the responsibility for energy security in their homes – were not evident in the plan.”

This issue is reiterated by environmental and community activist Andy Pienaar, who says that – as far as he knows – communities in Namaqualand did not participate in the formulation of the SAREM. Says Pienaar, “I do not see how this can be a so-called “masterplan” that should guide the way forward for the rollout of community owned renewable energy projects in the country, when the people have not been part of developing the plan. Should we not be involved in these critical decisions?”

Lamile Khetshemiya from Nombanjana in Centane Eastern Cape also says that his community was not notified about the Renewable Energy Masterplan meeting that was held in July. He says, “It was only by-the-way that we heard there was a meeting, but it is not clear if anyone attended. And, as far as I know, there was no-one from the cooperatives that I am connected to that attended, and it did not appear that any small-scale fishers had any knowledge of it. This must change. We must be involved in developing the SAREM.”

The SAREM should not only address how transformation will happen in the renewable energy value chain but should focus heavily on addressing energy poverty in the country. Moreover, The Green Connection says it is concerned that there is no focus on ensuring that the transition to renewable energy does not follow the same extractive pattern of the fossil fuel industry.

“While it is important to unpack how transformation will happen, for instance, in the transport sector – such as the adoption of electric vehicles – and exploring the potential of hydrogen and biogas in other areas, the SAREM can only really be viewed as a “masterplan” if it also addresses the pervasive and extensive energy poverty in our country. A broader vision encompassing various renewable energy applications, such as solar water rollout and solar cooking, is crucial to achieving societal transformation. Unfortunately, in its current form, the SAREM is an industrial development plan that neglects widescale decentralised, household-level interventions that could be truly transformative for the whole society.”

“We cannot have a plan that is meant to guide our society when only a select few have been invited to the decision-making table. The lack of diversity of stakeholders, beyond just big businesses and industries, is plainly evident. Unfortunately, the SAREM does not seem to represent the interests and needs of all South Africans and does not appear to prioritize societal transformation, energy poverty alleviation, and inclusivity that extends beyond the renewable electricity generation and storage value chain,” adds Simelane.

The Green Connection believes that the SAREM must be more comprehensive, and it must be guided by an Integrated Energy Plan that has been formulated through diverse stakeholder engagement, including civil society and affected communities. With a stronger, more inclusive approach, the SAREM could become a roadmap for the upliftment of all South Africans, particularly the poor and vulnerable. It should address the shortcomings of past renewable energy initiatives, learn from lessons of the past, and embrace emerging renewable technologies to shape a sustainable and just energy transition for South Africa.

According to Neville van Rooy, “Renewable energy, unlike the other energy sources, are the only real concrete and tangible opportunity for inclusive, people’s power. This is a chance to change the fortunes of marginalised communities, giving them the power to drive their own, experimental phase into the just transition. Owned by locals. Driven and mobilised by locals who are allowed to determine the desired future energy supply and framework. Communities also deserve fair access to the opportunities that come with the just transition. It should not only be open to industry or corporate power.”

Author: Bryan Groenendaal

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