#PowerFutures: Fuelling Discussion About South Africa’s Energy Transition

Energy is central to economic development, growth, and the achievement of the SDGs. And yet in South Africa, our energy sector operates on an old model that is holding the country back. Ahead of the 2019 State of the Nation Address, a new conversation was needed to fuel discussion and mobilise support for bold reform.

Working with a brand new think tank, called Power Futures SA (backed by MIRA at UCT GSB) the country’s foremost experts on energy sector regulation and reform) we were tasked with raising the level of discussion about the urgent need for reform ahead of Davos, the ANC NEC meeting, and ultimately the 2019 State of the Nation Address.

Energy sector reform in South Africa is highly politicised. While solutions exist, in the form of independent power producers generating wind, solar, and hydroelecticity, the centralised model of power generation through the Eskom coal power monopoly remains. This is largely due to the risk and fear of large scale unemployment in the period of transitioning to a new system. We needed to approach the debate with sensitivity to ensure inclusive, non-hostile engagement.

Kickstarting the Conversation with Video

Articles about Eskom are written every day in the media, so to to get noticed and join the public conversation on this important topic we decided to launch with a video. With less than a week until Davos, our first milestone we produced a video entitled “South Africa’s Democratic Energy Transition”.

The length, format, and timing of the video were a key part of the plan. We wanted a video of less than 2mins so it could be easily shared on Twitter and WhatsApp, the two primary distribution platforms that we knew would reach the key stakeholders. We used current affairs footage to emphasize how public and urgent this issue was. Lastly, we produced the video in under a week so that it could be sent and referenced directly by leaders we had contact with in Davos.

To launch the video we worked with MIRA to pull together a panel of leading commentators on South Africa’s energy future. And the need for reform, specifically - unbundling. We also created a social media toolkit with talking points which we sent directly to event participants and influential social media users.

The result was 25 000 views of the video in one day with more than 10 separate pieces of media coverage, including the most read article of the week on Fin24 “Eskom: Breaking up is hard to do, but it may be necessary - experts

The stage was set, and the PowerFutures team were well positioned for ongoing engagement on the unbundling of Eskom and ensuring a “just transition” for South Africa’s energy sector.

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Sidebar: The Davos Factor

The WEF Annual Meeting in Davos is where world leaders come together to discuss ideas about the state of the global economy and how to improve it. For the South African delegation it is an important diplomatic milestone each year, as the international community can be directly engaged. This year we knew that Energy Sector reform would be high up on the agenda, specifically as it relates to climate change.

The Global Risks Report 2019 by the World Economic Forum stated it in the clearest possible terms:

Over a ten-year horizon, extreme weather and climate-change policy failures are seen as the gravest threats.
— The Global Risks Report 2019, World Economic Forum

And it’s a theme that was being revisited over and over again in Davos this year. "What greater threat is there to our wellbeing than the current threat of climate change?" asked New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. "GDP may say your country is thriving, but it's not thriving if it's also degrading the environment and contributing to CO2 emissions."

It’s not just government officials but business leaders who were demanding that climate change and new approaches to energy issues be put to the forefront of every agenda. “Energy efficiency is the one resource that every country possesses in abundance and it is the quickest and least costly way of addressing energy security, environmental and economic challenges,” explained Kim Fausing, the President and CEO of Danfoss.

This is particularly relevant now, in 2019, because of the Digital Industrial Revolution (also called the Fourth Industrial Revolution) and the impact that will have on the energy sector and our ability to combat climate change in the near future. “The bottom line: in the fight against man-made climate change, 4IR could make a meaningful difference – and it can’t come soon enough,” says Hans Vestberg, the Chief Executive Officer of Verizon.

Power Futures SA is a platform for inclusive, evidence-based dialogue for a just and transformed South African energy sector. It is run from within the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business’s MIRA research group and launched with a discussion on The Eskom Crisis and the Energy Transition. If you would like to join the conversation, participate in the discussion and learn more about where South Africa stands in the just energy transition you can engage the team directly on Twitter @PowerFuturesZA.


Share the message below on your social channels, or create your own:

I’m joining the conversation about a just energy transition with @PowerFuturesZA #powerfutures

Energy Facts and Talking points:

The South African government aims to reduce coal’s share of total capacity from almost 80% in 2017 to 46% by 2030. The government also announced new plans to quadruple renewable energy’s share of capacity to 36% in 2030.

Among the G20‚ South Africa’s thermal coal use is the highest and its use of renewable energy is the second-lowest.

South Africa is the continent's largest energy consumer and holds about half of Africa's electricity generation capacity.

Eskom is the fifth largest coal producer in the world.
90% of electricity in South Africa is currently supplied by coal.

In 2008, Eskom held an A1 investment grade credit rating. Last year, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s maintained Eskom’s rating at CCC+. Several levels deep into junk territory (and with a negative outlook).

Photo by Camila Fernández León on Unsplash