Imagine a South Africa with load shedding a dim memory, a flourishing economy, booming investments, safer and cleaner jobs and air pollution drastically reduced along with pollution-related illness. This is the legacy we can leave for future generations by transitioning our country to clean energy.
We’re nowhere near that dream yet. Load shedding is costing the nation between R1.5 billion to R6 billion per day. A short-term public sector solution is deemed virtually impossible, with the national government crisis plan expected to take a decade to be fully implemented. Even at the municipal level, more nimble local governments, such as the City of Cape Town, are projecting that renewable energy from independent power producers will take four years to bring online.
The private sector is the only actor with the capital, agility and speed to address this emergency quickly. This acknowledgement is reflected in recent decisions to remove the 100 megawatt licensing threshold for large energy consumers, and in the President’s energy crisis plan, which relies heavily on the private sector to drive, fund and support large- and utility-scale renewables. In July, Eskom met with the top leadership from 70 corporations to discuss private-sector led solutions to the energy crisis.
These measures focus on the most powerful private sector players, but more needs to be done. It is time for all business leaders to take charge, from SMEs to the largest multinationals.
CEOs and their executive counterparts are the most important enablers and drivers of sustainable business and ESG (environmental, social and governance) decisions. In business, sustainability is driven by leaders’ values, their acumen translating those values into action and their ability to convince shareholders that sustainability is good business. Leaders also create and influence business culture, critical to implementing sustainability plans. They decide how capital is spent.
It is sobering to fathom how much impact business leaders can have.
If the leaders of the 10 largest South African companies invested just 1% of profits into supplying solar power with battery backup for schools, by 2025, every school in the country could be solar powered and protected from load shedding.
If these same companies continued their investment until 2030 by solar powering hospitals and retirement homes, this would reduce the load on the national grid by 2 gigawatts, equivalent to two stages of load shedding, avoiding approximately 400,000 tonnes of annual carbon emissions. The energy storage added would end load shedding-related disruptions to education, improve healthcare for vulnerable populations, potentially saving lives in the process, and set a powerful example for our future leaders. This does not mean giving away capital – it means applying capital, such as funds allocated for ESG, to measures and initiatives that offer a return, while also actively addressing the energy crisis.