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Opinion: How many jobs will the JET create in Mpumalanga?

Renew-e managing partner and co-founder Etienne Rübbers

Renew-e managing partner and co-founder Etienne Rübbers

5th December 2023

     

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In this opinion article, Renew-e managing partner and co-founder Etienne Rübbers argues that where the green energy jobs are created will be important in ensuring that the energy transition is just.

It is clear that an energy transition is taking place and it would be unwise to try prevent it – trying to prevent the energy transition is like trying to stem the tide. Renewable energy prices have dropped dramatically over the last ten years, to the extent that the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) of wind and solar are now comparable to just the variable costs of coal – the fossil fuel for a thermal power plant.

On December 1, Engineering News published an article titled ‘Green growth and jobs’, which highlighted globally the number of new green jobs that would be created for every coal job that would be lost.

Much research has been done on the impact of the green energy transition on employment, including papers from the International Energy Agency, Harvard’s Growth Lab and a number of co-benefit studies. Most of these papers argue that two to three new green jobs will be created for every fossil job that will be lost. 

Even if the two to three new green jobs is true, where would those jobs be created? How many of those are created in China where the PV panels get manufactured, financiers in London, skilled project developers in Johannesburg and construction workers building new renewable energy facilities. South Africa’s renewable resources are in the Northern Cape (solar) and Western and Eastern Cape (wind) and that is likely where South Africa’s renewable energy plants will be built. It is unlikely that new renewable energy plants will be built in Mpumalanga once South Africa’s grid has been strengthened.

South Africa’s energy transition will result in the shift from coal to renewable energy. About 80 000 people in Mpumalanga are dependent on the coal value chain, and the transition will result in the closure of coal mines and coal-fired power plants and those jobs will be lost. These coal workers are skilled miners but they will need to be reskilled so that they can find work in South Africa’s transitioned economy.

But how many jobs will be created in  Mpumalanga?

The retirement of the Komati power station was meant to be a poster child of the Just Energy Transition, and Eskom, the World Bank and the South Africa government invested much effort to showcase how the energy transition could be just. Despite this concerted effort, sadly Komati has had challenges and many commentators argue it has been a complete failure.

An Engineering News article notes that South Africa is encouraged in a Harvard Growth Lab study to adopt a three-pronged approach to taking advantage of its green-growth potential by, firstly, advancing the enablers of global decarbonisation, such as producing critical minerals and targeting emerging green supply chains. Secondly, making green versions of grey products such as green drop-in fuels. And thirdly, exporting green know-how, such as engineering procurement and construction expertise in building green and technological know-how in areas such as Fischer-Tropsch, Vanadium Redox flow battery technology, fuel cells and electrolysers. 

This three-pronged approach is something that should be pursued, however there is absolutely no reason why the three initiatives cannot be pursued now to reduce Mpumalanga’s 34% unemployment.

None of the avenues are dependent on the closure of the coal mines, and unfortunately none of these three prongs could likely create the number of new jobs we need for Mpumalanga’s for 80 000 mineworkers. 

If we do not find employment opportunities for these 80 000 people (who on average each have more than six dependants) there will likely be civil unrest.

We need to create new jobs in Mpumalanga and not be fixated only on the helicopter view of the overall new jobs that could be created with the energy transition.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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