Already, the country has a world-class training facility called the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (Saretec) where wind turbine technicians can be trained to such a high standard that it opens up serving the world market. The centre also trains people in solar power and energy efficiency.
The South African Renewable Energy Business Incubator works to support and build capacity for smaller businesses that are responding to opportunities in this space.
From the consumer’s perspective, paying this levy is still an incredibly good deal. The risk of huge cost overruns at megaprojects such as Medupi, Kusile and Ingula would be retired for good, as would the need for the country to “pay as you go” on building new power plants. Capital would be sourced from the private sector and the country would only pay for electricity when it is connected to the grid and producing. Over time, the cheap renewables would abate the trend of steeply increasing electricity prices, eventually halting it.
A deliberate attempt to ensure the wellbeing of the coal workforce will create additional political capital and impetus for the transition. Indeed, creating a green economy was a fundamental consideration in the National Economic Development and Labour Council when the decision was made about seven years ago to create the progressive Green Economy Accord between the government, business, labour and civil society and to roll out the renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme.
There are many ways to make a mindful transition to a low-carbon future; it is for us as South Africans to decide collectively how best to do it. What matters is that it makes sense, that we have the capacity and that however we may structure the finances, the benefits are far greater than the cost.
SA has blazed an international trail in combining renewable energy development with sustainable development. It is often said that the latter is a “people-planet-prosperity” triangle. We have the chance to be a global pioneer again in the way we care for and redeploy workers in the coal sector. They deserve it, and we can afford it. This is an occasion where we can all win.
• Van den Berg is a member of the Ministerial Advisory Council on Energy. He writes in his capacity as team leader at Skrander.