Sustainability Transitions and the Politics of Electricity Planning in South Africa

Baker, L. (2016). Sustainability Transitions and the Politics of Electricity Planning in South Africa. In: Brauch, H. G.; Spring, Ú. O.; Grin, J. and Scheffran, J. eds. Handbook on Sustainability Transition and Sustainable Peace. Hexagon Series on Human and Environmental Security and Peace, 10. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, pp. 793–809.



After decades of cheap, abundant coal-fired electricity, from which large international mining and energy conglomerates and wealthy households have benefitted disproportionately, South Africa is experiencing a supply-side crisis. In 2011, the country’s first integrated resource plan for electricity (IRP) was promulgated following a prolonged and contested consultation process throughout 2010. This plan anticipates that renewable energy will constitute twenty per cent of installed generation capacity by 2030, which will deliver approximately nine per cent of supply. Coal will retain the greatest share alongside a potential yet currently uncertain nuclear fleet. The objectives of this chapter are twofold: to examine electricity governance in South Africa and the highly politicized policy-making process in relation to IRP in which vested interests have played a major role; and to consider the extent to which the IRP has facilitated a low carbon transition. The chapter finds that despite the creation of a successful renewable energy ‘niche’, the coal-fired ‘regime’ is also being reinforced and the electricity mix under analysis is fuelling an unsustainable trajectory of production and consumption. The chapter also considers definitions of sustainability and concepts of a ‘just’ transition.

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