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Roundtable on Energy
Investment and technology choices in the SA power sector: economic, social and environmental trade-offs
The topic was chosen simply as one that related to current global challenges with strong relevance to the local energy landscape, and bore no relationship to a STIAS research theme; in fact, the research themes were only formulated in the course of 2012.
Preparation and organisation
Preparations started in September 2012 and consisted of a small core committee whose members were involved in a local university research unit for renewable energy studies, in a NGO working in environmental protection, and in the energy chapter of South Africa’s National Planning Commission. These core committee members could draw on extensive contacts in the power sector who could be invited to the roundtable. Similarly, Maud Olofsson could draw on her Swedish and international contacts based on her experience in the Swedish cabinet’s energy portfolio. At the same time, they were able to assist with planning a programme that could address the main problematics of the topic. Invitations and the drafting of the programme was implemented by the author.
The actual preparation consisted of bringing together a number of experts in a three-day workshop followed directly by the roundtable over two days. The idea was that the workshop would concentrate on teasing out technical matters, while the roundtable would be less technical and more interactive and focused on policy choices.
The workshop and roundtable delegations overlapped considerably. In geographical terms, the South African and international contingents were about evenly balanced. The gender composition was overwhelmingly male, and Africa was poorly represented. In terms of sectors, the research and expertise were of the highest order and brought advisors of governments in Europe (Sweden, Germany) and Asia (Japan, China) to the table. In terms of politicians and policy makers, several former cabinet members from Sweden attended but – though invited – no South African cabinet member attended. High-level bureaucracies, both government and state-owned, were well represented. The South African state-owned electricity supply commission (Eskom, the largest of its kind in Africa) cooperated fully and was remarkably forthcoming in providing both estimates and methodologies used decision-making. Regulating agencies and nuclear research institutions participated. From the business sector, both new enterprises (in renewable energy) and established business (e.g. Shell) attended, as well as venture capital.
Outcomes and impact
The roundtable ended with a panel discussion summarising the main points, followed by a press release. Several reports were published, on the web and also in the mainstream media. Several articles pointed to the fact that South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) needed an update; others showed trends that the cost of nuclear seems to be escalating while the cost of renewables is on the decline. Maud Olofsson obtained an appointment with South Africa’s deputy president, who was also the chair of the cabinet’s energy group, and handed over the main report released at the end of the roundtable. This report was well-received and carried some weight in creating greater awareness of the downward trend in the costs of renewables and the escalating costs of nuclear in decisions about an appropriate power mix for South Africa and other low and middle income countries.