South Africa will need $250bn over the next three decades to transform its coal-powered economy into a low-carbon energy system, according to a consultation paper released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on May 26.  

The report was published by Centre for Sustainability Transitions at the Stellenbosch University in South Africa and Blended Finance Taskforce, a UK-based company that helps mobilise large capital for sustainable development goals. 

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While the report assessed that the energy transition should be triggered by public development financial institutions, such as the government employees’ pension fund or Development Bank of Southern Africa, it also emphasised that the majority of the $250bn needed for South Africa’s energy transition will require private investment.

Around $125bn of investments will be needed to ramp up wind and solar energy to replace coal-generated energy by 2050. Besides expenses for renewable energy build-out, the $250bn total expenditure includes: $50bn for storage to support grid stability, $40bn for improving the power transmission and distribution networks, $24bn to close the coal-fired power plants owned by 2040, and up to $10bn to compensate and rehabilitate affected coal workers and communities at idled coal mines. The expense for building renewable supply chains has not been confirmed yet.

Besides the phase-out of coal and gas, the report highlighted that during the process to build-out renewable infrastructure, the transition could create 50,000 jobs per year in construction, operation and maintenance of wind and solar plants over the next decade.     

Although South Africa generates 86% of its electricity from domestic coal-fired power, it is also the African country attracting the most renewable energy foreign direct investment (FDI) projects, according to fDi Markets. The country received 119 renewable energy projects, representing a value of $20bn between 2004 and March 2022. The biggest investor in the South African renewable energy market was Mainstream, an Ireland-based renewable energy company. The company made 14 projects, worth around $2bn, to establish wind and solar farms between 2009 and March 2022. 

South Africa was granted $8.5bn of funds through ‘Just Energy Transition Partnership’ with the US, the UK and the EU to accelerate its transition towards green energy  at COP26 in November 2021. 

“This game-changing partnership will set a precedent for how countries can work together to accelerate the transition to clean, green energy and technology,” the UK prime minister Boris Johnson said in the statement on November 2 2021. 

“Using existing blended finance models, the $8.5bn could leverage additional capital to meet $40bn or more of South Africa’s just energy transition investment needs,” Andrew Johnstone, CEO of Climate Fund Managers, said at the report launch in Davos on May 26.