South Africa: Boosting Job Creation Through Renewables

Endowed with some of the best wind and solar resources globally, South Africa is actively pursuing renewable solutions in a bid to diversify its energy mix, increase energy security through domestic, sustainable energy supplies, and reduce the reliance on coal-fired power generation. The country’s adoption of renewable sources has not only created an environmentally friendly and long-term power generation alternative, but has initiated socioeconomic benefits through job creation that could reduce poverty rates and generate economic growth country wide.  

REIPPP Drives Renewable Employment Opportunities  

South Africa is currently leading the way in Africa’s energy transition with the implementation of its Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) program – a comprehensive strategy designed to facilitate private sector investment into grid-connected renewable energy generation. According to a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) titled Renewable Energy: Facts and Figures, the REIPPP program not only addresses energy security challenges and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but it also emphasizes the role that renewable energy plays in boosting employment within the energy sector.  

The REIPPP program aims to increase renewable energy’s penetration in the market and associated developments are leading to an increase in employment opportunities. The program has demonstrated the potential for localized job creation through renewable energy deployment in South Africa. A Co-benefits study undertaken by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) notes that employment can be expected to increase by an additional 40% in the period 2018 to 2030, accounting for 580,000 job years. This number can potentially increase to more than 1.2 million job years, created along the entire renewable energy value chain. Already, in the first eight years of its implementation, the REIPPP program has attracted approximately R209.4 billion in committed private sector investment, and has created 32,532 direct, full time equivalent person-years of employment. The continued implementation of the program has the potential to generate socioeconomic growth through poverty alleviation and job creation country wide.  

Opportunities within the Green Economy  

Renewable energy developments continue to address increasing energy demand across the continent – the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that with the right policies, regulation, governance and access to financial markets, sub-Saharan Africa could meet up to 67% of its energy needs by 2030. The move towards a green economy in South Africa has been identified as one of the 12 job drivers that could contribute to the creation of 5 million additional jobs. Other sectors include finance, business, trade, tourism, and manufacturing.   

The establishment of a green economy – identified as a low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive economy – would not only accelerate renewable utilization within all facets of the economy – including but not limited to agriculture, industry, and mining – but will ensure human capital and development is at the forefront of economic growth. Accordingly, by prioritizing renewable developments and social inclusivity, South Africa can expand employment opportunities within the renewable value chain and across multiple sectors.

For example, according to the CSIR, a typical 86MW solar power plant value chain will create approximately 950 direct jobs and 3,670 job years over the lifetime of the project. Considering government targets to add an additional 6GW of solar capacity by 2030, employment opportunities are vast. However, despite employment opportunities within renewable power generation generally being concentrated in the services, construction and manufacturing sectors, a green economy would additionally ensure the creation of both indirect jobs – those that are ancillary to the project – and induced jobs – those created outside the regional center or commercial enterprise. Accordingly, the establishment of a green economy, one in which renewable energy developments are evident across every economic sector, can be seen as a key driver of job creation.

Positioning youth at the forefront  

According to government mid-year estimates in 2019, South Africa’s youth population comprised approximately one third of the total population – equating to 17,84 million. With renewable sector developments relying heavily on a highly skilled workforce, there lies a valuable opportunity for the education and up-skilling of youth as a strategy to expand employment opportunities and fast-track sectoral development.

Within the first eight years of implementation, the REIPPP program created an estimated 38,701 job years for youth and women in surrounding communities. However, there remains a critical skills shortage in South Africa, leading to numerous organizations and Independent Power Producers (IPP) redirecting focus on local content and skills transfer initiatives as a way to leverage the potential of the country’s youth.

Notably, Youth in Energy – an organization that aims to bridge the gap between African youths, governments, and private sector so as to include youths in all upcoming energy projects in Africa – is focusing on increasing youth inclusivity in energy employment opportunities. Additionally, the Department of Energy notes that local communities have benefited from over R1 billion spent by IPP’s on education by upskilling teachers, as well as awarding over 600 bursaries to students from disadvantaged communities. By prioritizing education and skills transfer initiatives, youth’s participation in the country’s transformative renewable energy sector will be accelerated.

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