Our Burning Planet


Green transition to renewables is a massive job creator — South Africa can learn from Denmark’s mistakes

(Photos: Adobe Stock | Unsplash / Zhang Fengsheng | Nikola Jovanovic)

To reach Denmark’s goal of reducing its CO2 emissions by 70% in 2030, it will take 290,000 human years over the next 10 years. About 90,000 of these will come from unskilled workers in the building, construction and infrastructure sectors. Similarly, South Africa’s transition from coal to renewable energy will demand thousands of new jobs.

Kristoffer Böttzauw is director-general at the Danish Energy Agency and Tobias Elling Rehfeld is Danish Ambassador to South Africa.

If you go for a stroll at a beach around Cape Town today, dipping your toes in the water, you will probably enjoy springtime and pay no attention to the sea besides its beauty. Now, picture yourself at the exact same spot in the year 2100. The sea may at that point have risen by one metre. What was once a walk on the beach now requires knowing how to swim.

This is just one of many future images illustrating the conclusions of the latest IPCC report. Today, the globe is nearly 1°C warmer than it has been over the past 200 years. Looking ahead, our current CO2-emission path cannot prevent temperatures rising above 2°C. This will cause rising sea levels, among many other climatic changes.

The report tells us, though, that we stand a chance of keeping temperature rises below 2°C if we see emissions halved by 2050 and reach carbon neutrality by around 2075.

Denmark has gained green-transition experience accumulated over more than 30 years and has shown that it is possible to establish renewable energy, such as wind power, in a cost-efficient manner. During the same period, we have secured our welfare system with economic growth of around 65%.

Today, about half of Denmark’s electricity supply is covered by wind and solar power. This makes Denmark, with a population of about six million people, the country with the world’s highest share of variable renewable energy in its electricity system. Still, we have maintained world-class security of electricity supply with an average of only 20 minutes of power outage a year.

Denmark’s path for its net-zero target by 2050 is among other things based on large-scale offshore wind farms connected to the world’s first energy islands. In 2020, a broad majority of the Danish Parliament approved the realisation of two offshore wind energy islands. The North Sea Energy Island will produce as yet unseen amounts of green electricity and, when fully implemented, a potential capacity of 10 gigawatts. This will provide 10 million European households with green energy.

The energy islands can produce massive amounts of wind power in the future, which also creates a future possibility for sector coupling through Power-to-X conversion.

Green transition calls for a vast workforce

Today, Denmark shares its experiences with 19 countries, which collectively emit more than two thirds of the global CO2 emissions. Since 2012, South Africa has been one of these countries. Our countries share the vision of a just transition where phasing out fossil fuels/coal does not increase inequality in society, but creates economic growth and jobs.

Peer to peer, we work together with relevant South African energy authorities on accelerating South Africa’s path from coal power and opening up for a more liberalised energy market that allows a higher share of renewable energy, while securing power in the sockets 24/7. The green transition requires huge investments and demands both a skilled and an unskilled workforce.

A recent study by the Danish utility branch organisation, Danish Energy, estimates that to reach Denmark’s goal of reducing its CO2 emissions by 70% in 2030, it will take 290,000 human years over the next 10 years — 90,000 of these will come from unskilled workers in the building, construction and infrastructure sectors. The total workforce needed covers different sectors and services in energy, industry and transportation and is based on synergies of sector coupling.

Heading towards 2030, the request for hands and heads will increase in new areas such as carbon-capture storage, power-to-X and heat pumps.

In the same way, South Africa’s transition from coal to wind, solar and hydro will demand thousands of jobs. Shifting to larger shares of fluctuating renewable energy will demand more flexibility in the energy system, which can be solved by including sectors such as heating and cooling. The higher the ambitions across sectors such as transportation, heating, cooling, buildings and so on, the bigger the workforce that will be needed to do the job.

South Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog some of the mistakes we have learnt from in Denmark during the past decades. Standing on the shoulders of these experiences, we are convinced that South Africa can secure future growth, jobs and welfare based on a more sustainable smart energy system. Together, we must do our utmost to reduce CO2 emissions, not least for the sake of future generations. OBP/DM

Absa OBP

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  • This will require a collective deep breath, a strong will and the pulling together from a lot of diverse interests and! for some to look beyond their current ‘grubby hand’ grabbing to first get the show on the road. I do believe you are 100% right but I have lost all faith in the one person whom I believed would help start to get this nation back on track. One example (of a growing pile): A promise was made that the real culprits behind the July riots and looting would be brought to book. Hmmm….
    And we want and desperately need to tackle projects such as in this article?
    I watch Sir David Attenborough and my heart bleeds. He is so right and so hopeful, even in the face of such incredible and daunting adversity. Then you watch Greta Thunberg. She is also 100% right. All the bla bla bla. It really is time for the BS to stop. I wish I was Greta’s age again….maybe I just need my morning coffee

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