A co-benefits study undertaken by industrial research body the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has shown that technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges can play a central role in supporting the transition of Mpumalanga’s economy to renewable energy from coal mining and coal-fired power generation, CSIR energy industry acting research group leader Aradhna Pandarum has said.
The team, in collaboration with renewable energy transition foundation Renewable Energy Solutions for Africa, looked at the value chain of renewable solar photovoltaic and wind energy operations to identify the skills that Mpumalanga needs to develop to ensure its people can work in new jobs.
The study, finalised in February this year, looked at various implementation scenarios for renewable energy in Mpumalanga and the effect on employment, skills development needs and industrial opportunities that can emerge.
“Mpumalanga has a lower average level of skills than nationally, which is one of the difficulties, as emergent skills needs for power stations typically require [higher-skilled employees] than people employed in mines.
“However, the work done [by the CSIR and collaborators] has led to the launch of a renewable energy skills pilot project at the Nkangala TVET college. We have also developed a reskilling framework,” she highlighted.
The CSIR team also conducted analyses for power station repurposing projects, in collaboration with the European Union Commission, to look at the economic, social and environmental aspects of repurposing.
This work has been taken further, with the team doing holistic cost-benefit analysis of three renewable energy technology repurposing options at two Mpumalanga coal-fired power stations. This work is being funded by development finance institution Agence Française de Développement.
The study identified a range of high-impact actions, including the need to start developing specific skills courses for TVET colleges, establishing centres of specialisation focused on different aspects of a green economy at different TVET colleges and ensuring that there are childcare facilities near TVET colleges to ensure that the transition supports the inclusion of women, highlighted Pandarum.
Further high-impact actions include deploying renewable energy generation in the province and focusing on entrepreneurial development to support the creation of companies that can participate in the new value chains, she added.
The study indicated that about 46 000 direct and indirect jobs will be lost owing to the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations, but these can be recouped and a further 35 000 jobs created by transitioning employees to work in a renewable-energy based power sector. However, these jobs will not be in Mpumalanga, Pandarum noted.
“We are also working on a master plan for infrastructure in Mpumalanga. However, there will need to be reprioritisation of skills, and a clear view of when those skills will need to be ready.
“One of the main conclusions of the study is that we need demand certainty, in addition to policy certainty. An example is the delay in the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which led to many assemblers of solar modules leaving the country as the rollout was halted and the work did not materialise.
“To invest in skills development, we need demand certainty. Therefore, it is critical to build capacity within municipalities to support and enable the rollout of renewable energy projects. The industry requires an enabling environment, which is not possible without efficient permitting processes and effective municipal decision-making.”
*Pandarum was speaking at the ‘Skills for a Just Transition Indaba’ hosted by the Presidential Climate Commission, the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Energy and Water Sector Education Training Authority on December 7.