18 January 2012


Solar energy - South Africa’s job creation powerhouse

“The South African government plans to eventually install 1450 Megawatt (MW) of solar PV through the initial RE IPP program before 2014. According to international research, every MW of solar generates 30 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs of which less than 10 for production. The installation phase of plants alone would lead to at least 29.000 jobs (FTE),” says Edwin Koot, CEO of SolarPlaza.

“The maintenance phase of solar plants creates another 1.450 employment opportunities. These downstream jobs are mainly local.”

SolarPlaza is an international platform for solar industry stakeholders, and renown for its solar conferences. The organisation’s first gathering of 2012 will be held in Johannesburg on January 25.


In South Africa, where 25% of the workforce is unemployed, the bulk of these jobs would be downstream: solar panels are mainly produced in China, the United States, and Germany.

“Solar employment opportunities in South Africa will be mainly created in areas such as the engineering and design of solar plants, the installation if the panels, marketing, maintenance of solar plants, and sales,” Koot adds.

Dick Berlijn, managing director of Pretoria-based solar electricity development firm Subsolar Energy, confirms Koot’s statements.

“The manufacturing of the remaining components of solar plants, such as structures, cables, inverters, and transformers, is a good source of employment too and this is already happening in South Africa by the way. The same counts for PV module assembly,” he said.

“So, when large scale solar power really starts to take off in South Africa, these spheres will create more jobs too. Best is, that many of these jobs will be created in areas with low economic developments”

Peet du Plooy notes that the renewable energy sector in terms of job creation is far superior to any other form of energy. As the programme manager at the Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) think-tank, De Plooy predominantly deals with sustainable growth.

“What can be said with confidence is that renewable energy of all forms - including solar - creates more jobs per unit of capacity (kW), unit of generation (kWh) or unit of investment (Rand, Dollar or Euro) than fossil fuel-based energy,” he says.

A 2010 Greenpeace report dealing with the link between renewable energy and job creation in South Africa confirms this. According to the researchers a minimum of 78.000 new jobs could be created in less than two decades if the government plays chooses a greener route.

To come to this conclusion, ‘South African Energy Sector Jobs in 2030’ explored three energy growth scenarios. When following the first one, derived from the International Energy Agency’s 2007 Africa projections, 46.000 employment opportunities could be created by 2030.

The Long Term Mitigation Scenario Without Growth Constraints model is a reflection of South Africa’s energy future in the absence of climate change and oil constraints. This scenario could result in 71.000 jobs.

The number of 78.000 jobs created by the third model, the Energy [R]evolution scenario, could climb to 111.700 when wind turbines and other renewable energy equipment are manufactured locally, the researchers say.

The link between job creation and solar will be one of the topics of discussion during SolarPlaza’s conference in Johannesburg (25 January, Sandton Convention Centre). Other issues that will be addressed include the investment potential of solar energy, the financing of PV projects, and what solar could mean for South Africa’s electricity demand and economy. 

Speakers include Koot, Berlijn, Du Plooy, Karen Breytenbach (Senior Project Advisor within National Treasury’s Public Private Partnership Unit), Omar Vajeth (Head of the Power and Energy division at ABSA Capital), and Ayanda Nakedi (Senior General Manager at Eskom Renewables).

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