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Renewable energy can create about 231 400 jobs up to 2030

A decade ago, the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPP) was established through a supporting policy framework in the form of the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). Associated Ministerial Determinations and processes for permitting, licensing and connection to the grid were established.

According to a recent article on CNBC Africa , “The role of renewables in the economy cannot be overstated. In South Africa, the REIPPPP attracted investment (equity and debt) of a total value of R209.7-billion (R41.8-billion: foreign investment). Since inception of the REIPPPP in 2011, 55 217 job years were created for South African citizens to date, the programme further contributed to socioeconomic development and enterprise development of R1.3-billion and R402.5-million respectively, according to reports from the Independent Power Producer Office.”

As a company that has operated in this sector since 1997, we know the capacity that renewable energy has to create much needed employment — the continuing need for which is clearly evidenced in the latest Stats SA report:… the official unemployment rate increasing by 0.1 of a percentage point from 32.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020 to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021 — the highest since the start of the QLFS in 2008”.

As more and more countries around the world have started to manufacture, trade in and install renewable energy technologies, employment has proven to increase. The leader in is the solar photo-voltaic (PV) industry, representing a third of the total global renewable energy workforce, with PV employment having also expanded in India, Southeast Asia and Brazil in 2018. According to the International Renewable Agency’s (IRENA’s) Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review Report of 2019, it is hydropower that holds the largest installed capacity of all renewables, directly employing 2.1-million people worldwide.

Closer to home, it is estimated that direct off-grid solar employment in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are the full-time equivalent of 372 000 jobs. Of these jobs, 56% are in rural areas and 27% are filled by women. Distributed renewables for energy access (DREA) systems have now become an effective and established solution for providing energy access, with about 150-million people around the world having benefited from the DREA in 2019.

Over and above the obvious employment opportunities it holds, it is clear that renewable energy is playing an increasingly vital role when it comes to improving access to energy (with the resulting positive social and economic ripple effects).

Although global investment in renewable energy capacity remained nearly flat in 2019 and 2020, 2021 is starting to indicate otherwise. According to the World Energy Investment Report 2021: “In 2021, annual global energy investment is set to rise to $1.9-trillion, rebounding nearly 10% from 2020 and bringing the total volume of investment back towards pre-crisis levels. However, the composition has shifted towards power and end-user sectors — and away from traditional fuel production.”

In the South African context, we are currently in an insufficient energy capacity position that demands alternatives to fossil fuels. As per a presentation organised by Capacity Building Programme for Employment Promotion, “The electricity generation mix that powers the South African economy is transitioning — with coal to be significantly replaced by wind and solar generation capacity from an installed capacity of 71% coal and 7.2% wind and solar in 2018, to 43% coal and 33.8% wind and solar in 2030 (IRP 2019).”

In July 2020, the department of minerals and energy published the determination issued by the minister for 2 000 megawatts (MW) of electricity to be procured from a range of energy source technologies. Additionally, the long-awaited amendment to the Electricity Regulation Act, allowing companies to generate up to 100MW capacity without having to register for a generation licence, was gazetted on 12 August this year.

The IRP 2019 details planned capacity for solar PV, wind and embedded generation of close to 21 146 MW by the end of 2030. The department breaks down the capacity as 6 484MW from solar PV, 9 462MW from wind, 300MW from concentrating solar power and 2 600MW from embedded generation.

With renewable components projected for the 2022 to 2024 allotment and 11 000MW of coal power expected to be decommissioned by 2030, renewable energy is expected to see an increase to about a third (26 000MW, or 33%) of total installed capacity.

If we take a rough estimate of six months per 1MW for 20 people or 10 people per MW a year, as well as the 2 000MW mentioned in the determination in July 2020, we are looking at 231 460 jobs to be created up till 2030. If we then assume that the people added to the industry on an annual basis retain their jobs, it equates to a net job addition of 124 320 jobs or 12 432 new jobs a year.

The global energy transformation is accelerating as governments work to expand the social and economic benefits of renewable energy. As critical as the need for decarbonisation and the meeting of international climate goals, so too is the requirement for job creation and the growth of our economy. It’s obvious that renewable energies can play a valuable role in doing just that.

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Tiaan Hendriks
Tiaan Hendriks has a master's in mechanical engineering in renewable and sustainable energy from Stellenbosch University. As the head of Energy Design, Sales and Marketing at SEM Solutions, a company specialising in sustainable energy and water solutions for the commercial and industrial building sectors, he is a qualified commentator for the renewable energy industry.

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