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A Just Energy Transition: Public-private partnership for South Africa

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Picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA) – The Kouga Wind Farm, a renewable energy project which delivers 80 megawatts of grid-connected capacity in the quest to power the country’s low-carbon future.

By Ndzalama Cleopatra Mathebula

As the country tails on the trajectory of the national power utility, Eskom turns 100 years this year, 2023. Due to its dented performance, the 100-year milestone is seen as the utility’s shortcoming. Instead of a celebration, the country sees it fit to halt the national utility finally.

Undoubtedly the deteriorating quality of electricity rendered by the utility’s fast tracks the end of its life span in the past 15 years. Eskom has continued to affect the economy, a fiscal burden and stealing from the prospect of the country’s future. It is mainly attributed to decades of corruption mismanagement, poor leadership, and the growing demand rate. As much as these issues can be discussed, action is vital and urgent for improving what’s left of the economy, business, and livelihoods.

As the woes of Eskom continue to make the country unbearable to stay in and deem it an attractive destination for business and tourism, so should the agency to circumvent this energy crisis follow suit with much agency and collective action. This pertains to a bottom-up approach to energy security in South Africa.

The government cannot ensure energy security due to numerous challenges. Still, at the same time, the private sector cannot be left to provide electricity in the country since it can come at a high cost and unaffordability for the majority. Therefore, the government should adequately implement energy and development plans for a just energy transition.

As South Africa is gearing towards a developmental state by 2030, so should all economic, social, and market aspects of the country follow suit. The Just Energy Transition (JET) framework is a roadmap for decarbonising the country’s carbon-intensive economy and pitching toward a green and cleaner economy.

The JET is underpinned by principles of a green, inclusive economy and combating climate change and shares fundamental sentiments with the envisioned National Development Plan’s energy key priorities. This suggests South Africa’s energy landscape should reflect an energy mix, technologies providing clean energy, independent power producers, and electricity pricing accommodating people experiencing poverty.

The JET plan could not have come at a better time, given the growing importance of combating climate change and the crippling energy grid in the country. However, more natural and collective strides are crucial to ensure its implementation. From a feasible, practical lens, this pertains to a public-private partnership (PPP) which has proven to be the most viable manner to deliver decent quality infrastructure effectively. PPP can be defined as a contractual arrangement between a public agency and a private entity. The public agency commissions the private company to perform significant aspects of the project.

The active presence of community engagement in these energy procurement processes can further strengthen the feasibility of this framework. Each stakeholder has an active role. The government regulates, the private company delivers the project, and the community finances the projects through affordable fixed means as the government orders. This plan reflects collective action and sustainability in service delivery.

While this bottom-up approach to infrastructure procurement ensures community involvement, existing small businesses in the energy sector should be highly considered to foster a competitive energy market and enable the expansion of these small businesses.

The significance of this article renders in the current energy crisis that is wreaking havoc in the country, as it cripples basic infrastructure and deteriorates the economy. However, as much as we can discuss these challenges, a complaint should be accompanied by solutions. Thus, to find answers to this energy crisis, it’s essential to devise inclusive strategies to avoid energy trade-offs.

This speaks to engaging communities in energy security since we have witnessed how a top-down approach to service delivery has left many South African communities without essential services. This movement towards energy security requires efforts from a diversified readership and partnerships to devise realistic yet practical means to ensure energy security.

Ndzalama Cleopatra Mathebula is an MA candidate and assistant lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg. She writes in her personal capacity.