Gaps in the renewable energy masterplan, civil society weighs in

Mellisa Fourie is one of the commissioners on the Presidential Climate Commission representing civil society.

Mellisa Fourie is one of the commissioners on the Presidential Climate Commission representing civil society.

Published Sep 29, 2023


By Thabo Molelekwa

There are gaps in the South African Renewable Energy Masterplan (Sarem) that civil society and climate experts have identified, as well as a lack of consultation with communities.

The South African Renewable Energy Masterplan, released in July, focuses on leveraging the rising demand for renewable energy and storage technologies, with a focus on solar energy, wind energy, lithium-ion battery and vanadium-based battery technologies, to unlock the industrial and inclusive development of associated value chains in the country.

However, this plan was somewhat criticised for some of the important issues Green Connection says it falls short of articulating.

Mellisa Fourie is one of the commissioners on the Presidential Climate Commission representing civil society. She told the Rural Action for Climate Resilience (RACR) that she is encouraged by the publication of the draft Sarem for comment.

“First, it is a relief to see the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE), which has to date been slow to take ownership of the just transition to the new green economy, produce a vision for a new renewable energy industry in South Africa.

“Second, it is also excellent that we are starting to identify and prepare to use the significant opportunities the transition to clean energy offers to South Africa through an entirely new value chain,” she said.

However, Fourie said there are gaps in the draft Sarem that must be addressed.

“One significant gap is the prioritisation of women’s participation in, and benefits from, the renewable energy value chain. What we want to see is that this new industry – and the industries that provide materials to the RE value chain – address past inequality and exclusion of women and put women in a better position than they have been in the past,” she said.

According to her, this will require taking into account the factors that are currently holding back women’s participation and pro-actively creating flagship programmes like the Global Wind Energy Council’s Women in Wind programme to give women opportunities for training, small business development, participation in senior management and in ownership of businesses in the renewable energy value chain.

Other gaps, Fourie said, include the issue of socially and community-owned Renewable Energy.

“I would like to see support for existing socially and community-owned RE projects that would allow those communities to sell the power they produce back to the grid – and then expanding those initiatives to support larger scale community-owned RE that can provide electricity, particularly those that do not have access to electricity, and generate income,” she told RACR.

Communities not consulted

The Green Connection’s Energy Advocacy Officer, Kholwani Simelane, said: “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 – the majority of whom bear the responsibility for energy security in their homes – were not evident in the plan.”

In a press statement released by the Green Connection, Andy Pienaar, from Namaqualand, is quoted saying that as far as he knows, communities in Namaqualand did not participate in the formulation of the Sarem.

“I do not see how this can be a so-called ‘masterplan’ that should guide the way forward for the roll-out 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?” Pienaar asked.

Lamile Khetshemiya from Nombanjana in Centane, Eastern Cape, also said that his community was not notified about the Renewable Energy Masterplan meeting that was held in July.

“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,” he said.

According to Green Connection, 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.

“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 prioritise societal transformation, energy poverty alleviation, and inclusivity that extends beyond the renewable electricity generation and storage value chain,” added Simelane.

The PCC welcomed the plan

The Presidential Climate Commission has also welcomed the Sarem draft, with a few recommendations.

According to the statement released by the commission. “The PCC concurs that the rapid roll-out of renewable energy (wind and solar) and battery storage, with the accompanying BOP (balance of plant) programme provides significant opportunities for localisation.”

The statement further reads that the PCC supports the aims of Sarem to grow investment, local content and employment in the renewable energy value chain and build the in-country skills to achieve this.

“The interventions to foster inclusive development are supported, with the development of the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) sector specific scorecard for the renewable energy and storage sector,” said the PCC in the statement.

The PCC further explained that there should be harmonisation of transformation requirements between Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP) and embedded generation projects through an industry charter that promotes participation by black-owned businesses, young people, and women, and incubating and building the capacity of emerging suppliers.

* This story was produced through the Youth Citizen Journalism Fellowship, an initiative of the Rural Action for Climate Resilience project, which is co-funded by the EU and the Heinrich Boll Foundation.