Why we need to go green
As South Africa heads towards a low-carbon, ecofriendly economy, it will be vital to grow new green industrialists.
The country’s traditional employer, mining, is bleeding jobs, with the Chamber of Mines of SA estimating the sector lost 47 000 jobs between 2012 and 2015.
More job losses are on the horizon with Anglo American’s shock announcement this week that it will be selling its local iron ore and coal assets.
Establishing green industries and jobs is one way to keep the country economically viable.
Research conducted by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) three years ago estimated that a green economy could create 98 000 direct jobs in the short term, 255 000 in the medium term and 462 000 in the formal economy in the long term.
A green economy in South Africa would mean the creation of jobs in a variety of fields, including waste management, biodiversity and natural resource management, public transport, wind and solar energy, biofuels, green construction, electric cars and lithium-iron batteries.
But money is needed to finance green start-ups, train new workers and upskill unemployed people.
IDC industrial infrastructure head Lizeka Matshekga says that “supporting communities and entrepreneurs financially will contribute towards the development of a local skills base and prepare South Africa for opportunities on the rest of the continent”. Creating a new class of black industrialists is a big motivator for the IDC, and the renewables programme is the perfect vehicle to encourage green entrepreneurs. “Support for increased black participation in a sector [that is technically risky] has created opportunities for the local manufacture of green energy components. This has resulted in the creation of job opportunities, particularly in areas where economic activities were subdued,” she said. Private sector investment in renewable energy generation will soon reach R193 billion, with R19.1 billion of that earmarked for socioeconomic development. South Africa has commissioned 92 renewable projects in under three years with the potential to add 6 327 megawatts to the national power grid.
One green entrepreneur is Heather Sonn, the managing director of Khana Energy, a black-owned and controlled company that has invested in the Garob Wind Farm in Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape’s Kouga Wind Farm. She says her company has invested in the sector because of its enormous growth potential. “We figured it would offer sound long-term growth prospects and allow us to build companies according to the country’s needs for job creation, skills development and creating capacity in areas that foster gross domestic product growth.”
Sonn says it is likely that the industry can get four to five times bigger and that South Africa could have a penetration rate of 20% to 40% renewable energy by 2030.
“With new developments in energy storage and the conversion of electricity from gas, South Africa could become a world-leading producer of carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, thanks to the low cost of renewable energy,” she says.
However, large international players still dominate the green space because “the cash investment requirement is huge and required skills are still new to us as a country”.
Sonn says she is proudest about the possibility of dreaming of a better future through this new sector. “Collectively, we can shape the future and have a positive impact on our economy, communities and country.”