It will take an industrial revolution to meet renewable targets and create jobs

Lindiwe Johnson is project manager of employment strategy and economic diversification at the Presidential Climate Commission.

Lindiwe Johnson is project manager of employment strategy and economic diversification at the Presidential Climate Commission.

Published Jul 10, 2024


By Lindiwe Johnson

Earlier this year, the Department Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) now Energy and Electricity, released the South African Renewable Energy Master Plan (Sarem) as a government-led initiative and a strategic framework for the industrial development and integration of renewable energy sources into the country’s energy-mix.

Even though the new department in the 7th administration is yet to publicly sign it off, as far as the social partners are concerned the master plan is moot, and its implementation needs to be ramped up.

The foundation of Sarem rests on four core pillars: enhancing local capacities, fostering inclusive development, advancing industrial growth, and stimulating market demand. While progress has been made in certain areas feasibility varies, some objectives appear attainable given existing groundwork, while others face significant barriers hindering their realisation.

The objectives of the master plan primarily hinges on industrial development of the sectors and developing the necessary skills as well as the necessary expertise to support industry growth on the back of ensuring the creation and maintenance of quality jobs.

Sarem is aimed at promoting economic growth through the expansion of renewable energy and battery storage initiatives while advancing a fair and equitable transition to sustainable energy sources.

The plan is crucial for the country’s shift to renewable energy with the ultimate goal of achieving a low-carbon climate resilient economy. However, it’s facing delays and challenges, especially in local manufacturing and seizing new opportunities like the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme.

An opportunity to reignite manufacturing

The Presidential Climate Commission (PCC) concurs that the rapid roll out of renewable energy (wind and solar) and battery storage, with the accompanying balance of plant programme provides significant opportunities for localisation anchored in an industrial strategy that advocates thorough-going industrial transformation in the long term.

Recognising the pivotal role of green industrialisation in sustainable development and the needs to support various initiatives towards our energy-mix targets, the PCC has initiated a work programme to support Sarem and is aimed at identifying and leveraging green industrial opportunities outlined in Sarem and other nascent sectors.

The programme facilitates collaboration and fosters partnerships among key stakeholders from the government, business and developmental finance institutions to drive industrialisation in the renewable-energy sector to unlock barriers and opportunities in localising renewable-energy component manufacturing.

This is critical for the desired leap to a renewable energy future, aligned with Sarem goals and a just transition framework.

Sarem correctly identifies opportunities where local content can be developed over time such as towers, rotors and nacelles for wind turbines, and module assembly, mounts, trackers, cables and inverters for solar PV.

Manufacturing of equipment for the transmission sector could have greater emphasis, for instance Sarem could consider the manufacturing of inverters, transformers and transmission pylons and cables and other transmission components.

But for this master plan to be just, it needs to place greater emphasis and ultimately act on local, community and worker ownership models, and spell out incentives to enable socially-owned renewable projects and companies to go to scale. Integrating local communities into the supply chain will broaden economic participation and strengthen support for Sarem.

The right skills for a decarbonised energy-mix

This catalytic work programme seeks to initiate a skills matching process to ensure a capable workforce is equipped to capitalise on these opportunities, delving into bridging the skills gap and the occupations required for the renewable-energy sector, and aligning workforce capabilities with industry needs to capitalise on green business opportunities.

Scaling up the renewable and battery storage sector requires a new generation of technical and managerial skills specific to the rapidly evolving technologies. This is a central component of the just transition to grow decent work and livelihoods in new energy sectors – reskilling and upskilling of existing workers is crucial to realising the “just” element of the transition.

The focus on skills development needs for renewable energy still need to clearly articulate the required workforce to enable a competitive localised industry for renewable energy across manufacturing, installation and maintenance to enable planning and delivery reskilling, skilling and education programmes in vulnerable regions.

However, these measures are not sufficient on their own. In the absence of additional measures, South Africa will not achieve the deep and sustained industrialisation, localisation and competitive technology objectives that the global shift to renewable energy enables.

As the 7th administration hits the ground running it is necessary to secure early wins in South Africa’s renewable-energy industrialisation ambitions through Sarem opportunities.

Lindiwe Johnson is project manager of employment strategy and economic diversification at the Presidential Climate Commission.