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Coal sector workers need upskilling for a just energy transition

RES4Africa released a report analysing the reskilling framework necessary for South Africa to achieve a just energy transition away from coal.

The report looks at the employment and skills changes needed to shift from a dependency on coal to more renewable energy sources. It also looks at lessons learned from five other countries who are transitioning away from coal.

Entitled A Just Energy Transition in South Africa: Socio-economic needs and the positive impacts of a future low-carbon economy the report was developed by the RES4Africa Foundation in partnership with South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and London-based sustainability consultants ERM.

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It points out how important it is to make sure job opportunities in the renewable energy chain are created where employment in the coal industry is lost to avoid creating ghost towns.

The IRP2019 shows more than 11,000MW of coal power is meant to be phased out by 2030, which means job losses as power stations are decommissioned. 80% of Eskom’s coal plants are situated in Mpumalanga, so the job losses there could be stark if people are not reskilled to take advantage of new employment opportunities created by rehabilitation of the mines.

It also won’t help if people are reskilled to work in the renewable energy industry, but opportunities in RE are not created where the coal mines used to be.

If deployment of renewable energy continues to only be in the Northern, Eastern and Western Cape, grid infrastructure in areas where coal stations are currently found, will be stranded.

The report shows the potential for wind energy in Mpumalanga is negligible but solar power plants are a possibility. This will only happen though if independent power producers are incentivised to prioritise deployment in Mpumalanga rather than Renewable Energy Development Zones phase 1 demarcated areas.

The energy transition away from coal has already begun

The report goes further to point out the energy transition in South Africa has already begun. How just this energy transition turns out to be will depend on how the various planning document, policy papers, just transition offices, legislation, IPP programme and other initiatives are aligned, implemented and governed.

“South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030 has already articulated the country’s transition to a low carbon economy and the IRP2019 states the transition goals. Given that the coal mining industry and coal fueled power plants employ close to 200,000 people, a clear vision also needs to be articulated on how affected people will be reskilled and transitioned,” reads the report.

The report says the various buildings blocks for a successful and just energy transition exists. These building blocks just need to be enhanced in the following ways:

  • Clearly articulate the vision of what just transition looks like. Not just in terms of how to leave behind coal and use more renewable energy but also how exactly to mitigate job losses.
  • Decide which entity will take accountability for planning and implementation of the transition, working with various identified stakeholders.
  • Ensure capacity exists to manage the coal mine and power plant closures and consider a closure agency to manage both environmental impact and labour market inpact.
  • Determine the funding mechanics of the transition and design innovative funding mechanisms to support it.
  • Consider a reskilling hub to take advantage of the opportunities renewable energy offers across the energy value chain to mitigate job losses.

A Just Energy Transition in South Africa  is available online.

Theresa Smith
Theresa Smith is a Content Specialist for ESI Africa.