A bright new future

SAPVIA appoints new CEO

Dr Rethabile Melamu

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) is stepping into the next decade of solar with a new CEO at the helm.

SAPVIA has appointed the internationally recognised thought leader, Dr Rethabile Melamu as CEO, effective from May 2022.

A Chemical and Environmental Engineer by training, Melamu has become renowned for her international expertise in the green economy and energy sectors. She has leveraged both the theoretical and practical to harness innovative smart technologies to mitigate the impact of climate change in society, with a dedicated focus on African sustainable development.

Melamu also brings on-the-ground experience developing sub-national energy, green economy and public sector strategies and policies from inception to implementation.

Recognised most recently as one of the “Women Who Are Changing South Africa in the Public Sector”, Dr Melamu’s private and public sector technical and strategic leadership experience is sure to be an asset to SAPVIA as the Association charts a forward path to continue growing the solar PV sector’s role in South Africa’s energy future, in collaboration with government, the private sector and other stakeholders.

“As we celebrate a decade of solar in South Africa, it is fitting that we have at the helm of the Association a driven, experienced and powerful advocate for renewable energy. Dr Melamu comes to SAPVIA with an outstanding track record of delivery. She will lead the organisation into a new era of growth, focussing our strategic direction and ensuring that our members capitalise on the local and regional solar markets.”

“Dr Melamu’s experience and insight will ensure that we take SAPVIA and solar PV in South Africa to the next level, developing a culture of thought leadership, leveraging credible market intelligence and curating a best practice solar PV value chain” said Wido Schnabel, SAPVIA Chair.

Dr Melamu was most recently general manager of Green Economy at The Innovation Hub where she managed a portfolio of 40 green economy start-ups that develop and commercialise clean-tech solutions and technologies that contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as the creation of much needed employment opportunities.

She was also Acting Chief Director: Sector and Industry Development at the Gauteng Department of Economic Development where she led the development of 11 economic sector strategies to ensure that the province was transformed, modernised and re-industrialised. In her time at the Gauteng Department of Economic Development, Melamu also spearheaded engagement with private and public sectors, locally and internationally, to stimulate the growth of the Green  Economy in the Gauteng province.

“I am delighted to take on the role of CEO and I have no doubt that unlocking largely untapped renewable energy capacity can catalyse the implementation of the country’s sustainable development imperatives, invigorate industrial activity, and deliver meaningful socio-economic value to its citizens,” said Dr Melamu.

“As a trusted partner to government, I foresee SAPVIA and key stakeholders increasingly contributing towards the creation of conducive business and regulatory environments that will unlock market opportunities along the solar PV value chain for the benefit of SAPVIA’s members and the broader sector.”

SAPVIA is a member-led organisation formed with the express purpose of growing the solar PV sector’s role in powering South Africa’s future. The Association advocates, engages and influences on behalf of members to harness the power of solar PV and capitalise on the opportunities it offers companies, individuals and the broader South African economy.

“Solar PV should play a leading role in the just transition, not least because it can be adapted and harnessed for individual households across South Africa, for large commercial and industrial usage and everything in between. It is vital that we highlight the potential of solar PV to deliver sustainable and secure electricity for all and I have no doubt that Dr Melamu’s experience and energy will ensure we do so in the years ahead,” added Maloba G Tshehla, SAPVIA Spokesperson.

She will be supported in her role by the SAPVIA MANCO, Secretariat as well as the wider membership base.

“I strongly value collaborative partnerships. I plan to nurture existing partnerships and foster new ones that will deliver value to our members, the public sector and the country’s citizens. I would like to bolster SAPVIA’ position as the go-to organisation for all matters relating to the development, regulation and promotion of solar PV in South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa,”

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SAPVIA welcomes publication of Bid Window 6: solar PV set to capitalise on REIPPPPP

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) has welcomed the commitment shown by government with the release of Bid Window 6 of the Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme.

Following closely on the awarding of preferred bidders for Bid Window 5, this new bid window is critical in the drive to get much needed additional generation capacity, and ultimately kWhs, onto the grid. As a trusted partner to government, and in support of its members, the Association says it stands ready to support members in ensuring the success of this bid round.

Welcoming the news, SAPVIA spokesperson Mr Maloba Tshehla said, “This is another positive step forward for the Solar PV sector, and the broader RE market, in our ambition to deliver affordable, secure and clean energy supply to the country. We must do this, as embodied in the Economic Development requirements of the programme, contributing to South Africa’s development needs.

“The continued release of Bid Windows in a timely fashion demonstrates clearly that the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy are intent on harnessing renewable energy capacity to meet the country’s energy requirements and in doing so consistently, leverage this significant infrastructure programme to drive economic development.

Solar PV presents the least-cost, quickest-to-build option and with every advancing technological capabilities, our sector continues to play an increasingly important role in meeting the country’s capacity requirements, while driving our journey of a just transition”

Solar PV will account for 1000 megawatts (MW) of procured energy in Bid Window 6, with bid submission scheduled for 11 August 2022.

“We look forward to working with our members, the DMRE, the dtic and other stakeholders to realise the opportunities built into the programme’s Economic Development requirements.

“SAPVIA wishes all bidding entities, their contracts and suppliers well in the months ahead, as they gear up for projects bid submission.”

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The Wind at his Back: SAWEA CEO, Niveshen Govender

The South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) recently appointed Niveshen Govender as CEO. Govender undertakes a leading role in driving the country’s transition to a greener economy and brings along a vision founded on procurement, localisation and policy. Green Economy Journal met up with him.

Niveshen Govender

Congratulations, Niveshen, on your recent appointment of CEO at SAWEA. Besides this major accomplishment, what are the defining highlights of your career?

My career has been purposefully dynamic so I could experience the different views of promoting and achieving a green economy. I started off my career in consulting, where I managed to gain broad experience across a range of areas.

Thereafter, I moved to implementation, focusing on how to successfully execute large-scale projects which impact across the green economy landscape. I approached national government to better understand the policy development objectives and focused on renewable energy policy creation.

My experience and exposure across the green energy sector, has enabled me to take roles in the solar PV and now wind power industry associations, as I am able to translate policy into building an inclusive sector.

What are your personal aspirations while at the helm of the wind industry?

I believe that our industry needs to harness, accelerate and maximise localisation to move toward industrialising renewable energy in South Africa. Transformation goes hand-in-hand with this vision, so it is foremost and top of my mind.

I am personally passionate about information sharing and skills development, so that we harness our collective talents and knowledge, which spreads naturally and helps to accelerate transformation.

What are the greatest challenges for the industry in relation to the REIPPP programme?

While we continue to face an energy crisis, it is essential that our country remains geared to bring on more new generation capacity as quickly as possible, which points to renewable energy as the fastest and most cost-effective option.

To achieve this, we need to consider the current procurement rules, as there is currently a misalignment between the bid window procurement requirements and the sector capabilities. This will require additional dialogue with the relevant stakeholders, so that we can reduce the gap and make the necessary adjustments.

Our industry is currently challenged by the transmission infrastructure restraints, particularly the grid capacity challenges in the Northern Cape as well as the Eastern Cape Province, which house the country’s best wind resources.

The government has amended and gazetted the Electricity Regulation Act and the Electricity Pricing Policy for public comment. The sector has highlighted that the updated forecasting requirements also impact the power pricing tariffs. Please talk to us about the identifiable gaps and inadequacies in the penalties for deviation and how to overcome them.

The challenge is not so much in the forecasting requirement but more based on the methodology used to calculate the forecast. I believe that there is a misalignment on understanding this. Together we can develop solutions – this needs workshopping.

Should this not be considered now, the penalties will have an enormous impact on the operating IPPs.

Please expand on the challenges that the industry is currently experiencing to execute unlicensed 100MW renewable energy projects as well as other independent power projects.

While the 100MW licence exemption notice has sent positive signals, there are many finer details which require attention, namely:

  • The NERSA registration process still poses challenges
  • The distributor connection agreements need streamlining
  • There is no national wheeling framework in place
  • Wheeling tariffs need to be developed

Regarding private power purchase agreements, unclear policy for the 100MW reform needs to be clarified. The municipal energy procurement process also needs to be streamlined. Please advise on these two issues and expand on the benefits of your solution.

I believe that we are already seeing the policy reform we have been calling for, including:

  • The changes and direction of those changes speak volumes
  • As a sector, we are happy with the step change that is happening
  • We will continue to seek clarity in the details to ensure an open transparent market

The next step is for us to work on the impact, namely how we create benefit to meet the country’s social imperatives. These include access to affordable electricity for all, addressing unemployment, inequality and poverty. These aspects need to be incorporated into the business-as-usual plan.

What impact do grid capacity limitations cause? Will improved grid access make any difference to the transition?

Grid Capacity Limitations stalls the roll out of renewable energy projects in key areas:

  • It is only with the new capacity that we will be able to transition.
  • Improved access allows for us to deliver the much-needed new generation capacity.

For more information on the wind association: www.sawea.org.za


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SAPVIA comments on Suntech Solar legal case against Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition

The South African Photovoltaic Industry Association has been named as a Respondent in an application filed by Suntech Solar Power South Africa (PTY) Limited (“Suntech Solar”) on 3 September 2021.

Niveshen Govender

Suntech Solar has taken the decision to challenge the Risk Mitigation IPP Procurement Programme’s decision-making process and the associated empirical data utilised that led to retrospective exemptions from designated local content (“DLC”) requirements.

SAPVIA fully supports the objectives of the Department of Trade Industry and Competition (‘the dtic”), and our efforts are therefore focused on ensuring an enabling environment for local manufacturing and ultimately industrialisation which needs to be done responsibly and sustainably, making economic sense.

SAPVIA COO Niveshen Govender states, “We have engaged Suntech on this matter to better understand their position and further reached out to the dtic to facilitate a conversation before legal action was taken. As we understand, the dtic should be in a position to respond to the challenge with the record of decision and empirical data-based research.”

Suntech Solar are a member of SAPVIA in good standing.

As the representative body of the solar PV sector in South Africa, and as a result of our extensive efforts in driving sustainable and responsible localisation, including specific engagements with government and industry at large on this matter, SAPVIA has been cited as an interested party.

“No legal action is being taken against the Association,” Govender concludes.

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There has been much debate around the removal of the local-content requirement on aluminium frames for photovoltaic panels by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic). The decision has caused questions to be asked of dtic but should also motivate the industry and government to reflect on what local content really means.

By Niveshen Govender, COO, SA Photovoltaic Industry Association

Looking back at the progress we have made since the 2011 launch of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), I can see so many positives.

Recognising that our own local industry was not able to fully realise the ambitious programme targets, government took an innovative stance that was designed to leverage foreign expertise but also provide South Africa with the opportunity to become a major manufacturer of componentry of renewable energy projects.

The local content requirements of the initial Bid Windows of the REIPPPP stipulated a certain percentage of local content and have resulted in several technology and component manufacturers establishing local manufacturing facilities.

According to the IPPO quarterly report, Black South Africans now hold 33% of the shares across the complete supply chain and local communities hold 9% equity in the Independent Power Producers (IPPs) of Bid Window 1 to Bid Window 4.

To date, the R58.5-billion local content spend reported by active IPPs is already 89% of the R66-billion local content expected. This is with 20 projects still in construction, and 71 of the 91 active projects having reached Commercial Operation Date (COD).

All this is to be lauded. However, as I reflect on progress, I must ask, what exactly is local when it comes to local content requirements?

As with everything in life, there is often a happy medium between opposing viewpoints. And this might be an appropriate time to reassess what it is we want from local content requirements as we embark on another decade of renewable energy procurement.

Our definition of local should of course be aligned with government objectives to increase domestic employment through increased industrialisation. But local content should also lead to an enhanced skills base that leads us to leverage foreign expertise to improve the knowledge of our local workers and enable them to add value across the solar PV value chain, not just through manufacturing and construction and in the process, hopefully develop globally competitive products.

Renewable energy provides us with an opportunity for industrialisation. SAPVIA is fully supportive of localisation that builds industry in South Africa in line with the national policy. The framework must support fair and transparent opportunities to both local manufacturers and foreign investors.

There are several solar PV system components that could be locally manufactured if the right conditions are put in place. Add the untapped potential across the African continent which we could look to manufacture for the region and not just South Africa.

All of this must be done responsibly and sustainably, with an eye on balancing the immediate needs of the sector while encouraging investors and incentivising viable local businesses and industry.

A refocus on what local content requirements can only be done through open consultation both nationally and internationally, working with private industry and government to ensure that we have empirical, data-based research as the cornerstone of any plan.

Local content calibrations should begin with an assessment of existing local capabilities and the market potential, while keeping an eye on the planned roll out of capacity – mainly, the IRP 2019.

Going forward, we are keen to continue working with the dtic and other organisations representing the renewables and manufacturing sectors to fully understand the local market potential, currently, and what it can grow into. Only through research and consultation will we be able to chart a forward trajectory that supports increased investment in industrialisation and fosters healthy local competition.

SAPVIA is working hard to create an enabling environment that supports manufacturers. We have reconstituted a Manufacturing Working Group, for both members and non-members, which has representation from various solar PV component manufacturers, suppliers and distributors, both local and international.

This Manufacturing Working Group, under the leadership of its own Chairperson, Patrick Govender and Vice Chairperson, Conrad Harmse, will focus on specific issues that relate to the development of local PV supply-chains, supporting the South African Renewable Energy Masterplan’s focus of identifying and maximising industrialisation and employment opportunities from the implementation of IRP 2019, under the leadership of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) and dtic.

With the aim to contribute to a meaningful definition and position of local content as it relates to government-led procurement programmes, this Working Group elected officials (Frans-Willem Vermaak and Lourens Vermaak) to represent their collective interests at the South African Renewable Energy Master Plan (SAREM) level.

I would actively encourage as many players as possible from across the industry to come together through this Working Group to allow us to formulate an industry position that will help us tackle the challenges facing our industry.

Together we will map out the component manufacturing, supply, and distribution landscape in South Africa. Through a thorough review of policy, technical and lender requirements for local manufacturing, we will be better able to align with industry capability. We will further engage key policy makers to ensure an enabling environment for local manufacturers and support further investment into industrialisation.

A key ambition for any local content requirements must be to increase skills transfer and development and we will engage with the relevant SETAs to include and encourage youth participation and employment within the industry.

By interacting with other industry groups, our hope is to create a more collaborative sector that will lead to the increased rollout of solar PV in South Africa.

There is always a balance to be struck and compromises that sometimes must be made. However, by working together, we can make sure that future local content requirements really address the needs of the market and support long term policy objectives of both government and industry in the short, medium, and long-term.

  • Govender is the COO of the solar PV industry representative body, SAPVIA.
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SA’s renewable energy sector responds to negative commentary made at Dublin Climate Week

Responding to negative comments made at the Dublin Climate Dialogues, by the Mainstream Renewable Power’s former-Chairman, Dr Eddie O’Connor, on Africa’s capability to handle renewable energy investment, the South African renewable energy sector has explicitly stated their objection.

Representing the wind and solar industries, the South Africa Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) and the South African PV Industry Association (SAPVIA), stand by the conviction that the country’s and indeed the continent’s Renewable Energy sector continues to grow in South Africa with the Independent Power Procurement Programme (REIPPPP), being a prime example of a world-class programme originating in Africa.

“As an African, I am deeply offended and concerned by the unfounded statements made knowing that our industry is largely owned, operated and constructed locally, driven by our Government and benefiting the people of South Africa, while providing attractive investment opportunities for global market players, which demonstrates that we can be proud of this sector’s ascribed skills and expertise, despite being comparatively young,” said Niveshen Govender, Chief Operations Officer at SAPVIA.

The global energy industry by and large regards the African Renewable Energy market as a fast-growing market. For wind energy, the Global Wind Energy Council has reported that Africa reached 6GW installed capacity in 2020, a figure that’s expected to surge to 10.7 GW over the next five years, driven largely by South Africa, Egypt and Morocco.  Similarly, the Global Solar Council estimates 6.6GW of solar PV is to be installed per year across the African continent.

The South African government designed and implemented REIPPP programme, has been hailed as being well designed, transparent and fair. In less than a decade, the sector has proven its ability to deliver over 112 independent wind and solar power projects on time and on budget adding much-needed 6000 MW+ of clean generating capacity onto the grid, as well as over R 209-billion in investment flows into the South African economy.

“We have much to be proud of – this is a sector built on the basis of government policy and our government has demonstrated the will to resolve regulatory barriers to enable the sector to grow. Renewable energy in South Africa owned and built by and for South Africans, with 84% of the total equity in the sector held by local investors, demonstrating the country’s ability to hold its own in terms of RE deployment,” added Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of SAWEA.

The capability that has been built and localised in the country on the back of the REIPPPP programme is immense and extends to technical skills, manufacturing of components and auxiliary services in support of the sector’s growth.

Mainstream Renewable Power, issued a statemen, 27 May 2021, announcing the resignation of Dr Eddie O’Connor as Chairman of the Board of Directors.

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SAPVIA | Mantashe announcement on IPP bidders

Solar PV industry body SAPVIA (the SA Photovoltaic Industry Association) has applauded the step-change towards reviving generation capacity procurement from the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy and supports the commitment to deliver a secure energy supply from a diverse range of energy sources as set out in the country’s energy plan.

“We are delighted to see solar PV represented in the RMIPPP preferred bidders announcement and congratulate those members who have worked tirelessly to a successful end. With technological advancement, the reduced costs, the scalability and rapid build times of solar PV projects, solar PV should remain a key technology choice in meeting the country’s capacity requirements,” said Niveshen Govender, SAPVIA COO.

“The emergency procurement round showed that crises can spur innovation and action. While there is still room to better research and understand some of the technology choices of RMIPPPP, we welcome the Minister’s immediate follow-up confirmation of the release of the Renewable Energy IPP Procurement Programme Bid Window 5.

“New possibilities will be realised with both PV and PV-hybrid projects playing a role in South Africa’s energy mix. With the commitment to procure 2000 megawatts from PV solar across Bid Window 5 and 6 this year, there is much to look forward to.”

SAPVIA welcomes and strongly supports the changes announced to the Economic Development requirements of Bid Window 5, which will ensure the participation of black women in the ownership of future projects and procurement rounds as well as a more concerted focus on skills development in the energy sector.

“Over the past decade, SAPVIA has taken the lead in driving skills development across the solar PV value chain. Our focus has been on enhancing the skills of our members to create a world-leading sector that delivers socio-economic transformation and upliftment across South Africa.

“Recently, through our Developing Developers program, in partnership with SAWEA, we are working with current and potential developers to give them access to the knowledge and skills needed to take a renewable energy project from initial planning through to commissioning. This grassroots capacity development is well aligned with the department’s move to increase requirements for black women participation.”

“Local manufacturing and content must continue to be prioritised in all future procurement rounds and SAPVIA will work with members to develop local PV value chains so that our members are ready to meet the new requirements of local content in the forthcoming Requests for Proposals.”

The embedded and distributed generation sector is increasingly important both in diversifying our energy mix and contributing to energy security. SAPVIA is encouraged by the DMRE’s moves to enable increased embedded generation and is therefore seeking clarity on the statement on increasing the distributed generation licence exemption cap, and we will continue to engage with our counterparts in government to clarify the details and legislation required for self-generation as well as the licensing and registration regime for embedded generation.

Niveshen Govender

“The Minister has responded to the calls of industry to act quickly and restart renewable generation capacity and we look forward to solar PV playing a role in delivering energy security and powering South Africa’s economic recovery.” Niveshen Govender

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Women in power: the energy sector is lighting the way

A decade into South Africa’s renewable energy sector’s existence, it has become apparent the sector is still lagging in sufficient gender diversity. Hence the industry is actively giving attention to adjust and improve the levels of gender representation, at all levels, with the launch of its Gender Diversity Working Group.

“Gender diversity means a fair gender representation across all spheres of our industry. A 2020 report by IRENA and the Women in Wind Global Leadership Program shows that women represent only 21% of the global wind energy workforce and only 8% of its senior management. Recognising that the challenge of underrepresentation of women in the wind energy sector is as much a South African challenge as it is a global challenge, we launched a Commitment Statement in 2018, which commits members of the Association to address, amongst other things, issues of gender equality in the sector,”

Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA)

This sector Working Group will mainstream gender issues within the renewable energy industry by creating a platform and framework that will actively address gender diversity matters within the energy sector and to hold dialogues around areas of inadequate representation.

This new renewable energy industry Working Group is a collaboration between SAWEA and the solar PV counterpart association, SAPVIA, as both organisations recognise the need to address gender diversity issues from a broader renewable energy industry perspective. Additionally, the collaboration includes WE Connect, an NPO focusing on women empowerment within the renewable energy sector, with the intention of maximising capacity and increasing the programme’s impact by incorporating gender coaching and mentorship. 

“Diversity in the workplace is vital for the future success of every organisation. Countless studies have shown the positive effects gender diversity can have in every industry and we must work together to ensure that South Africa’s renewables sector is truly reflective of the society in which we operate.”

SAPVIA COO, Niveshen Govender

“As a sector our ambition is to deliver a just transition and this must include the upliftment and inclusion of all genders. This is not just because it is the right thing to do – it also makes commercial sense. From widening the talent pool to enhancing collaboration, improving retention, recruitment and reputation, the payback of an inclusive workplace has never been clearer.”

“There could not be a more fitting time than International Women’s Day to bring together this Working Group. The onus is of course on each of us as individuals to challenge the status quo, however with this group we can collectively take proactive steps to drive the change that is so needed in our sector to create a more balanced workforce across the renewables industry.” 

Looking inwards, the wind sector’s governing association is in fact operated under female leadership, and has done so for a number of years. SAWEA has been led by both a female CEO and Chairperson for the past two years and is supported by a women-dominated team.

“Our team is demonstrative of how women display emotional intelligence and innovative thinking that brings a different perspective, as women are naturally visionary forces. Our shared vision has created cohesion and has meant that we have been able to achieve the association’s goals, whilst contributing to a positive culture,” adds Ntuli.

The Gender Diversity Working Group Programme is expected to include a Leadership Acceleration Programme (LAP), which will identify women with leadership potential and place them on an accelerator programme to help bridge the female leadership gap in the sector. This is in addition to the coaching and mentorship programme, led by WE connect, which will pair mentors and mentees and assist them to meet certain objectives.

“Diversity in thought will contribute positively to the thriving and growing renewable energy industry.  Through mentorship, the industry can empower women, bridge the gap between male and female perspectives on equality and promote the concept of giving back,” said Karen de Bruyn, Founder of WE Connect.

Looking beyond the professional space, the programme will also include a ‘Business Opportunities for Women’ initiative, to provide access for women in entrepreneurship activities in the sector and to support women who are establishing themselves as entrepreneurs.

The Working Group also aims to achieve the following: Gender Diversity Performance Reporting, which will include a scoring matrix; Dialogues and Events, as discussion platforms to address common challenges and shared solutions on gender issues; and the launch of a Renewable Energy Industry Gender Diversity Charter – in line with the Industry Commitment Statement.

“Simply put, the ultimate target is to see women in the sector having access to and being considered for all opportunities,” concludes Ntuli.

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Wake up. The sun is shining

OPINION PIECE | Wido Schabel, Chairperson of SAPVIA

In 1992, the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid” was painted by James Carville, Bill Clinton’s political strategist, on the walls of the presidential campaign office. With South Africa facing the most challenging economic climate for generations, we need now more than ever to come together and plaster that slogan everywhere to remind every single individual what is at stake if we fail to act.

If you think I am being dramatic, then you have not been listening or looking around you, because right now we as individuals, citizens, and elected representatives risk missing out on a route to economic upliftment for all citizens. The time for self-reflection, slow and steady, incremental changes, and initiatives is over.

We have gone too slow for too long.

We have wasted valuable time not addressing one of the building blocks of our economy and our individual prosperity, looking for piecemeal solutions, patching a system that is not fit for purpose and hampering our businesses and lifestyles with the constant strain of load-shedding.

Enough is enough.

Today, South Africa is facing a crisis on three fronts. We face an energy crisis, an economic crisis, and an unemployment crisis.

One of these alone would be a hurdle for the government to overcome, but together they present us with unprecedented challenges that will require a concerted effort, innovative thinking, and speed.

And the answer, my friends, is literally staring us in the face.

We have everything we need to not only work our way out of the recession that is coming but to actually improve the situation for every individual and elevate our standing internationally as well.

As a priority, we must increase energy capacity and diversify our energy forms. We urgently need to move away from our dependence on finite fossil fuels. That is not a question, but how we do so and how we alleviate the impact of the decommissioning of coal mines is up for discussion.

The question on everyone’s lips is where the jobs come from to replace the value chain created by the coal sector. We must ensure that the transition is just and that no one gets left behind, and in this renewable energy represents not only a sustainable source, it also creates jobs right across the value chain.

Take for example Solar PV. With some 11GW of coal to be decommissioned by 2030, renewable energy can step into the breach. Not only will the 16GW wind, 6GW solar PV utility, and 6GW distributed generation more than compensate for the loss of coal, but will also create the much-needed increase in capacity we need to enable a functioning economy.

More importantly, the jobs created by these energy sources are plentiful. SAPVIA has commissioned a jobs study which we anticipate will report that utility-scale solar PV projects can generate between 7-14 jobs per MW capacity, commercial projects between 10-12 jobs, while residential projects could create up to 14 jobs per MW.

These numbers are not to be sniffed at and we could use the current energy crisis as the impetus we need to make a step-change and address the fundamental flaws in our infrastructure and economy.

Not least because, as we seek foreign investment to support our under-performing economy our downgraded status, and the lack of functioning infrastructure in place, means that any promises of investment will surely come to nothing.

Why would any investor set up when they cannot rely on a stable electrical supply to enable their business to function? And for us here in South Africa, we are continually hampered by load-shedding that leaves us unable to operate and sustain our own businesses.

And as the economy shrinks our unemployment levels soar. The young are especially affected by joblessness with almost 50% unemployment, but across the board, we see too many people out of work and unable to lift themselves out of poverty and improve their circumstances.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment levels will more than likely double, plunging us into an even deeper crisis.

So where do we go from here?

While it might sound like I am the harbinger of doom, I am not. I firmly believe that South Africa is on the cusp of seizing an unprecedented opportunity. We are sitting on the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A pot filled with natural, mineral and human resources.

I often say there is enough sun in Africa for us all, and when you add in our abundant wind, you can see that when it comes to natural resources our cup over-floweth. Harnessing these natural resources must be a priority if we are to emerge from the crisis.

But that’s not all we have right under our feet. Here in South Africa, we have access to the very mineral resources required to create and store the energy created from renewable sources. Platinum and Vanadium are the fundamentals required for battery energy storage systems and we have them in abundance.

Even better, we can actually become not just energy-independent but also an energy exporter, able to sell and improve our economic prosperity by shipping green energy abroad.

All of this would mean nothing if we didn’t have the people to set up the organisations to deliver the required renewable projects and maximise on the abundant resources we have available.

South Africa’s diverse population is filled with entrepreneurial, resourceful and multi-skilled individuals who are ready and waiting for the opportunity to drive forward our economy and put money into their own pockets and their families’.

So what’s holding us back?

We have a plan. The IRP has been out since October. But we’ve been on a go-slow for too long.

Players in the renewables industry stand ready to sprint ahead but are being held back by policy decisions and inertia that must be overcome if we are to emerge from this crisis with fewer people materially affected.

Some might ask where will the money for all this investment in infrastructure come from. We have so many options available to us. Local investors are chomping at the bit to play their part in driving the South African economy forward.

Unfortunately, South Africa is also one of the world’s worst CO2 polluters; fortunately, this means that there are global investment programmes that we can avail of to finance our transition away from a carbon reliant economy.

So again you might ask, what is holding us back?

Why are we missing this opportunity?

Because to me, it is a complete no-brainer for us to put the foot down and turn ideas into action.

Energy, energy, energy needs to be the focus.

Without a robust energy infrastructure, all will fail, from both a micro and macro perspective. We can only build the foundations of a prosperous economy if the building blocks are energy.

The SAPVIA jobs study has shown that the transition to a low carbon economy could create at a minimum of seven jobs per MW capacity. This is a conservative estimate and renewables has the potential to transform the jobs landscape with employment opportunities across the board, invigorating rural communities and offering access to new skills in localities where opportunity has been scarce.

We can and will address the re-skilling and up-skilling of individuals who are affected by the move away from coal and we can and will create an environment of proactive training and skills sharing that will ensure that every individual who wishes to participate in the new economy can do so.

Moving forward will require a concerted effort from government, industry and individuals. We need to all focus on the prize ahead, which will benefit every single individual across South Africa.

At its heart, this will be a just transition, where no one is left behind.

But it requires us to act now.

We cannot wait any longer.

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Schnabel is the Chairperson of the SA Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA).
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SOLAR | One change that will change our destiny

Comment piece | Daniel Goldstuck, SAPVIA Grid Access Working Group Chairperson

What if I told you that our energy crisis could be alleviated with one simple change?

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But, as a professional, with almost a decade of experience working in the energy space, I can tell you that it is that simple.

Every individual across South Africa has felt the ongoing impact of load-shedding, both at home and at work. Surely, there must be insurmountable obstacles or surely we would have solved the issues and be operating at full capacity, with an economy unfettered by load-shedding and increasingly damaging down time.

There is just one single change that the Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy can make. A change that would increase power supply, cut future load-shedding by at least two stages and prevent the recent wastage on expensive diesel, all while both saving and creating jobs.

So what is that change?

It is to move the current exemption from licencing from 1 MW to 10MW for energy generation installations.

Currently, 1MW can supply a small mall, while 10MW at the higher end is suitable to feed into a mine or industrial facility.

The Electricity Regulatory Act of 2006 governs the various stakeholders of the electricity supply industry, and regulates participation in the form of licenced activities. One such licenced activity is the generation of electricity, which requires a Generation Licence.

Currently, generation capacity below 1 MW of power is exempt from obtaining a licence, requiring only registration with NERSA (the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa) upon obtaining permission to connect from the local Distribution Licence holder (either Eskom or a municipality) under a Connection or Use of System Agreement.

This is an arbitrary limit set as a policy decision, and has no technical basis.

Operators working in both renewable and traditional energy propose the increase to 10MW because that capacity limit can be absorbed with minimal upgrades by a large number of substations, or nodes on the distribution network. This would also fit within the power consumption profile of many industrial facilities. 

On March 26 2020 the Minister gazetted an amended version of Schedule 2 rationalizing the licencing exemptions applicable to generation facilities under 1 MW. However, disappointingly the 1MW licencing cap remained, missing a valuable opportunity to create lasting benefits to the entire electricity system and avoid serious load-shedding during the day while still allowing some head room for Eskom to carry out necessary maintenance. 

The ministry has previously expressed concerns around protection of the electricity network as well as job and Eskom revenue losses, however, these are all addressable.

Municipalities and Eskom may be concerned that allowing more generation would impact their revenue collection. As it stands, a large municipality shedding 200MW during a load-shedding event costs R40m a week, or R174m a month. Eskom has made provision for up to 8 stages of load-shedding, which will result in the majority of municipalities collecting 0% revenue from most suburbs for significant periods of the day.

And when we look at job creation, those fears can also be addressed. Increasing the share of renewable energy must and will be accompanied by a discussion of a Just Energy Transition to ensure access to affordable energy while enabling all South African citizens to participate in the related economic opportunities. 

All data I have analysed indicates a transition to increased renewable energy percentages or even replacements of coal power stations, will result in net-positive job creation. I agree, serious work needs to be done to ensure the specific individuals impacted are re-skilled in a sustainable environment to be able to re-enter the new economic landscape.

But further, in a scenario where Eskom is shedding 6000MW in the middle of the day, adding MWs to the grid will have almost no impact on existing jobs, and in fact will result in greater job creation (4MW of rooftop projects can keep 31 site-staff employed for a year).

A recent SAPVIA (South African Photovoltaic Industry Association) estimate indicates that this change in legislation, shifting the limit for exemption from 1MW to 10MW, would enable 2000MW of PV to be installed within 12 months.

In the middle of the day, this is enough to shift load-shedding by up to two stages (e.g. from Stage 4 to Stage 2, or from Stage 2 to not at all), reducing the need to run expensive diesel generation if capacity is constrained, but not yet at levels to trigger load-shedding.

This would create jobs for 15,500 site staff, and approximately 2000 office based junior and mid management jobs. I have not yet quantified the job creation potential of related downstream manufacturing and services providers.

Energy would be available from these plants far sooner than energy from any national procurement program currently under discussion.

The Minister and other stakeholders must grasp the opportunity that renewable energy presents, not just from a supply perspective but also because it directly addresses the potential job-losses in the coal sector and the fear of lost revenue at Eskom. Without a fully operating power system, we will have less jobs and less revenue for Eskom. In contrast, with the appropriate legislation, we can create a much more robust electricity supply environment catering to multiple requirements of economic growth.

If the grid can absorb the power, the municipalities can continue selling power and jobs can be created, all while avoiding a further crisis at no actual cost to the government or tax-payer, why would we not make one simple change?

Changing one number, on one piece of legislation, can deliver wins on all the levels required.

  • Goldstuck is the Grid Access Working Group Chairperson at the SA Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA), an organisation representing the solar PV industry in South Africa.
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