Jobs galore in SA’s renewable energy sector

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South Africa’s renewable energy sector is preparing for the fifth bid window deadline next week, as well as gearing up for the next two bidding rounds, expected to follow soon thereafter.

To ensure the industry can deliver these procurement rounds, which will drive an estimated R40 billion investment each year, specialist skills are being sourced.

With Eskom’s woes persisting, SA is also making bold moves in driving renewable energy generation, as most of the country’s coal plants are reaching their end of life.

Energy minister Gwede Mantashe recently said renewable energy has played a critical role in ensuring troubled power utility Eskom deals with its energy capacity shortages.

Earlier this year, Mantashe announced the much-awaited opening of Bid Window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme, which will procure a further 2 600MW of renewable energy from independent power producers (IPPs).

In an effort to resolve the country’s energy supply shortfall and reduce the risk of load-shedding, president Cyril Ramaphosa in June also lifted the renewables industry when he announced the amendment of Schedule 2 of the Electricity Regulation Act to increase the National Energy Regulator of South Africa licensing threshold for embedded generation projects from 1MW to 100MW.

“We are anticipating jobs in manufacturing, logistics, finance, construction and operational phases. These comprise professional services, business services and sales,” says Ntombifuthi Ntuli, CEO of South African Wind Energy Association (SAWEA).

“Requirements include engineering, project management, project development and skills in environmental authorisations, among others. Direct jobs can already be seen through the employment drives that have been undertaken by various companies operating in the renewables sector.”

Vacancies in the renewable energy sector will come as a relief to South Africa’s strained job market.

The country’s unemployment rate rose to a new record high of 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021 from 32.5% in the final quarter of 2020, Stats SA said in June. It noted the rate was the highest since the quarterly labour force survey began in 2008.

To help satisfy the exponential sector growth, SAWEA is supporting the employment drive within the renewables industry, with a new vacancies portal on its Web platform.

“We are supporting members by listing their vacancies and helping to increase reach to potential candidates who may be looking for jobs in the renewables industry. This also includes internships and scholarship opportunities,” adds Ntuli, who says the sector has responded positively to this service offering.

According to SAWEA, many jobs were lost during the sector’s seven-year hiatus, with the manufacturing sector being one of the first to feel the impact.

It notes the extended delay in procurement of power from IPPs resulted directly in the closure of one tower manufacturing facility, which had employed over 150 people.

The impasse placed significant strain on another facility, says the organisation, adding the industry and country lost hundreds of skilled people, who sought employment elsewhere, so the industry is now playing catch-up and working hard at enticing talent to return.

“Considering that the industry to-date has already delivered over 45 000 job years for South African citizens, the next 10 years promise to deliver much-needed skilled and unskilled work opportunities,” says Ntuli.

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