The South African wind industry has called for a standardised metric to determine employment in the energy sector.
Currently all South African coal power-related employment studies use the metric employees or jobs as opposed to the more internationally applied metric person-years, which is used to report national renewable energy employment, says the South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA).
A Meridian Economics study commissioned by SAWEA suggests that the term 'jobs' used by the coal industry could be misleading, as a job could be anything from 1 day to 20 years.
“Simply counting a job can be meaningless. Standardising the metric job-year would assist more meaningful employment comparison between the two sectors,” says SAWEA.
The SAWEA power sector transition employment briefing paper says it is becoming standard to report employment in person-years both locally and internationally.
In South Africa, Energy Minister Jeff Radebe applies the contemporary metric, job-years and full-time equivalent rather than “the old-fashioned and vague” jobs metric when referring to the employment opportunities being created by the renewable energy sector.
Radebe recently explained in Parliament that a job-year is equivalent to a full-time employment opportunity for one person for one year.
“While duration is unspecified in the term 'job', a job nevertheless conveys a sense of a time frame beyond one year. The use of the term ‘job’ when reporting employment implications of power sector transition can therefore be misleading,” the Meridian study says.
“The employment implications of the power sector transition are highly complex and dynamic, demanding suitably complex and diverse analysis to enhance understanding of these and assist planning,” says the study headed by Meridian Economics MD Grove Steyn.
Another important consideration is that of meaningful or decent employment.
SAWEA says the term 'job' does not capture the features of a decent job. Aspects such as the sustainability of the job and working conditions remain hidden.
“We should be asking if the employment created will support a family, if it requires relocation and if there is opportunity for learning, development and progression. Asking such questions can stimulate the promotion of improved quality of employment,” says SAWEA CEO Brenda Martin.
Employment in the energy sector is diverse and complicated. It includes direct and indirect employment as well as induced potential employment during the various phases – from construction to operation and maintenance.
The study says coal mining drives employment linked with coal power generation, and absorbs low skilled labour. The loss of up to 35 000 coal mining employees in the Central basin appears likely due to the planned decommissioning of Eskom’s older coal-fired plant.
As of June 2017, the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) had created 32 532 direct, full-time equivalent (FTE) person-years of employment.
It is anticipated that 109 444 direct, FTE person-years of employment will result from REIPPPP bid rounds one to four in both construction and operation over their 20-year power purchase agreement time horizon.
Some studies suggest that the loss of coal mining jobs will outweigh the number of jobs created in the renewable energy, nuclear or gas sectors, while more recent studies suggest the opposite.
“Going forward, standardisation of metrics and methodologies is likely to significantly improve the current state of confusion,” says the Meridian Economics study.