The politics of procurement and the low-carbon transition in South Africa

Baker, Lucy and Burton, Jesse (2018). The politics of procurement and the low-carbon transition in South Africa. In: Goldthau, Andreas; Keating, Michael F. and Kuzemko, Caroline eds. Handbook of the International Political Economy of Energy and Natural Resources. Handbooks of Research on International Political Economy series. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd., pp. 91–106.



This chapter examines recent developments in the South African electricity sector. The largely coal-fired sector accounts for 45 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and is dominated by the state-owned monopoly utility Eskom. Since the introduction of private power producers in 2011, investment in utility scale renewable energy projects has started to make a small but significant contribution to supply, providing competitive alternatives to Eskom generation. The chapter outlines how electricity policy is embedded within long-standing political and economic forces, and subject to diverse and often conflicting interests. The chapter develops an analytical framework that links the literature on socio-technical transitions with that of the political economy of electricity. The South African case highlights that energy transitions are not merely about technological choices, but are embedded in institutional arrangements that may have unintended consequences or may be borne of broader political struggles that go beyond climate change considerations and indeed may limit the potential for transformation of the sector.

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