Civil Society Policy & Planning SMART News

Put our resources together and solve the electricity crisis

Brenda Martin | Cape Times | 9 July, 2013.

Why would we proceed with planning that is out of date and no longer serves our immediate or future needs?

PEOPLE are not great at joining the dots between cause and effect, but there is fairly widespread agreement that planning ahead is wise. We plan ahead when we prepare supper, we plan for our children’s education and we buy insurance “just in case” something happens.

But what happens to our planning when uncertainty rules? When unforeseen financial pressures knock over our deck of planning cards – like sudden electricity price hikes or an overnight petrol increase, not to mention water scarcity, turbulence and uncertainty in general?

At such moments planning is still called for and is perhaps more essential than ever, but in a context of uncertainty, planning needs to be more nimble. The Electricity Governance Initiative of South Africa (EGI-SA), a coalition of national civil-society organisations, has produced a report with concrete proposals for dealing with electricity planning in a context of uncertainty – the sort of context that includes everyone from factories to you and me and our home appliances.

The report used a modelling tool produced by the Energy Research Centre at UCT to work out how South Africa’s future electricity needs might be met at the lowest possible cost to the consumer and in a way that creates the most jobs possible.

The report recognises the significant pressures on South African electricity planners, who are tasked with ensuring a reliable electricity supply while social welfare, employment, education, health and environmental pressures continue to grow.

The old-fashioned view of an inextricable link between economic growth and electricity supply is held up as a fail-safe touchstone by many careful electricity planners. But while recognising that electricity planners have a daunting task, the Smart Electricity planning report provides some planning food for thought, and shows how by making choices today, we can plan ahead with confidence.

Conventionally, electricity planning aims to supply whatever demand is likely to arise in the future, in the cheapest possible way. Unrestricted access to cheap coal has helped expand the South African economy so far. But burning fossil fuels has a long-term consequence – it compromises ecosystems that humans need. The move to a smarter electricity supply starts with recognising the relationship between people and the boundaries of the planet.

Mature economies are decoupling their development from their natural resource use. They do the same with less. Fortunately, in South Africa, we have a track record of making a plan when our backs are against the wall. What are South Africa’s assets in this regard?

  • World-class professionals who are able to work anywhere they choose, but who choose to stay here.
  • Abundant wind and many hours of sunshine during most months of the year.
  • Many young people hungry for basic work experience and who would do well to be gainfully employed.
  • Retired and practising engineers with the skills and technical know-how.
  • People who are young enough to adapt their skills portfolio.

The Smart report finds that concentrated solar power provides 5.9 jobs per MW installed compared to just 0.5 provided by pressurised water reactor nuclear power. The IRP 2010 job-years potential is 360 000 until 2030; the Smart report modelling found that with a combination of energy efficiency and renewable energy, 530 000 job-years can be created.

So why are we planning for an electricity supply in the future that ignores the contribution that all of us can make? Why would we consciously choose to stick with a centralised and outdated power grid that more and more households can’t afford to access? Why would we build expensive nuclear and coal power plants that only employ large numbers of people during the construction phase and then keep on a fraction after the bulldozers rumble off ?

Why is the contribution that can be made by professionals and entry-level artisans through localised electricity manufacturing and supply programmes not part of our plan? Why are we not planning ahead to join the dots between electricity planning and decent (long-term) job creation?

Why are we not planning so that our electricity supply choices translate to growth of a local renewable energy manufacturing industry, which in turn will create jobs and be an investment in South Africa’s future?

In short, why would we proceed with electricity planning that is out of date and no longer serves our immediate or future needs? That doesn’t sound like the kind of thing people who know how to “make a plan” would go ahead with.

Martin edited the Smart electricity planning report which can be downloaded at She is the founding director of Project 90 by 2030 – a national NGO focused on energy research, policy and implementation. Organisations that contributed to the Smart report are: Norwegian Church Aid,, German Federal Ministry, Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, Project 90 by 2030, Gender cc, City of Cape Town, Green Connection, Credible Carbon, International Energy Initiative, the Swedish Renewable Energies Organisation, Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), WWFSA, ICLEI.

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