Defend Truth


‘I can’t afford solar power…I, among many South Africans, would like to be heard’


Christy Bragg works as a freelance writer. She has an MSc in Conservation Biology and has been acknowledged as a Mail & Guardian Climate Change leader. She has worked for more than 15 years in the sustainable development sector, conservation, climate change adaptation and environmental management, and knows a lot about porcupines.

The reality is that we don’t need a few, big renewable energy installations. We need many small, localised supply interventions. But nobody wants to do the hard work.

I write as a citizen of South Africa. My street cred is that I am a single mom with a disability and I can’t afford solar power. My professional cred is that I am a qualified and experienced environmentalist and I have worked in the renewable energy sector in various roles, including research around the transition. 

I, among many other South Africans, would like to be heard.

Knowing what I know about climate change and the very real, very urgent need for a transition away from fossil fuels is not enough. It’s not enough to motivate me to invest my scarce funds into solar energy panels. It’s not enough for me to invest time in finding out what energy alternatives are on offer (where is a central hub of knowledge on solar power technology for households?!).

I am, frankly, put off by the male-driven, low-access, user-unfriendly sources. I am put off by the exorbitant costs of investment in such technologies. I know that the long-term investment will pay off, but as a woman with a chronic degenerative disease, I have other priorities.

And so I am aware of how most South Africans must feel. If I am in this position, and I am highly educated and privileged, how are the majority of South Africans coping?

I recently watched a webinar about the challenges of the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) programmes in South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam. The JETP, boiled down to its nutshell, should represent a relatively low-cost way for South Africa to “rapidly cut emissions and stimulate private investment in clean energy, electrification and other green technologies”.

I am not going to delve into the politics involved (there are more than enough other articles in Daily Maverick on this). I want to know how the country is working together to make this transition safe and affordable for everyone, including me. And Fatima. And Blywell. And Siphokazi.

The webinar included South African researcher Dr Tracy Ledger of the Public Affairs Research Institute. Ledger said something that resonated strongly with me – “we can’t address our energy priority until we address energy poverty”.

This should be the logo of the Just Transition. Even though we are facing pressing climate change impacts, and even though we need renewable energy ASAP, we cannot continue to bypass the needy. This then further entrenches inequality and deepens poverty.

Poverty is a vicious circle that is now spiralling inwards with the impacts of load shedding – less access to affordable power. Ledger quoted a study which showed that households with affordable access to electricity are three times more likely to start a small business.

Light, power and the internet provide households with some resilience. We need this level of resilience to face climate change shocks.

I am angry that the Global North is not offering realistic incentives or grant funding for the Just Transition. Apparently, the JETP package share of grants in the new arrangement amounts to less than 3%.

I am angry that it’s going to be distributed in the old, worn-out methods of power politics. I am angry that I, as a South African citizen who has worked with government institutions for years, am so easily ignored.

I resent that, despite good case studies and evidence, we never see transformative, systemic changes. I, and many others, have been singing the song of decentralised community-based approaches for years, for water and energy.

The reality is that we don’t need a few, big installations. We need many small, localised supply interventions. But nobody wants to do the hard work.

Why on earth do the Just Transition funders not provide funding to facilitative agencies? Organisations that work to bring coherence and co-creation at the coalface, excuse the pun? The ones who make changes? The ones on the ground, who work with communities to catalyse change? 

It boils down to a lack of willingness to lose power by the people we voted into power.

At the very least, get renewable energy developments to integrate socially just frameworks into their processes. 

At the very least, invest in affordable renewable energy solutions for poor households. 

At the very least, don’t let load shedding destroy our water quality too (don’t get me started on this one). DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Human greed,self serving big corporations,thats why this does not realise.

  • Walter Spatula says:

    I frankly can’t get past the intimation that this relates to a female with disabilities in a male-driven environment, none of which is germane to the problem.

    • Paul Hough says:

      Hear hear; potentially important issue totally nullified by irrelevant issue-grandstanding. I was at first a bit put off by someone having to claim ‘cred’, but soldiered on, then stopped reading at the fourth paragraph.

      • Bill Gild says:

        I couldn’t agree more. The insinuation of gender into this otherwise mediocre (at best) piece constitutes yet another irrelevancy.

    • David Roland says:

      So say four white men who miss the salient points of the author.

      • Kanu Sukha says:

        Nailed it on the head ! Like the observation about those whom ‘we’ voted into office … who are not willing to let go of the ‘power’ … that keeps their (and their fellow travelers) wheels greased … and their beds fluffy ! Imagine letting ‘go’ of this humongous gravy train !

  • Nic Tsangarakis says:

    A strong argument Christy. Thank you.

  • Robert Aitken says:

    Thanks for the article. Agree we don’t need 20 large power stations but not sure a million small ones is a practical alternative. Sounds inefficient not Just.

  • Theresa Swash Swash says:

    All very valid comments but what just happened in court with a small town against Eskom trying to find a local solution shows that there is no just solution if Eskom continues to be protected.

    • Rob Fisher says:

      Solar plant at the small Free State Town of Frankfort that Eskom has squashed. A real solution that cost Eskom nothing, but threatens their monopoly. Cape Town is doing the same to residents that are trying to install solar. You have to register with them even if you do not connect to their grid. This requires a whole lot more money to get a certificates of compliance. So instead of something you could rig up yourself for R20,000 you have to get a certified installer to do a R150,000 job. At some later point I am sure they will try and charge you for using the sun. None of the municipalities want to lose the revenue stream that they get from being a monopoly electricity supplier.

  • Annemarie Hendrikz says:

    You are definitely not alone in your thoughts sister citizen. Thank you for putting them out there, even though they probably won’t be heard where it matters. It makes me feel less mad.

    • Irene Baumbach says:

      Dear Christy, Annenarie and so many others in a similar position
      I am sure may of us would benefit from appropriate solutions. If one has a limited income which just suffices to meet needs expensive solar solutions are unaffordable. Extended payment options are also not viable because one has a limited time to pay back any facility banks might make available (if at all, due to the age of the borrower). One has little control over inflation, municipal rates and and other essential costs like insurance and medical aid. One is therefore literally at the mercy of Eskom.

  • Katharine Ambrose says:

    Long ago solar technology was totally about getting power to the poor in the third world. It seems to have been hijacked by the people you mention and transformed scuse pun into a rich man’s plaything. There must be a way back to the alternative trail? Any pointers?

    • dBritBoer Maverick says:

      What I have done is connect an old 12v DStv power supply (free) straight onto an old 12v car battery (R500) and then to my 5G Rain router. The small alarm system backup batteries also work but don’t last 4 hours. Then I have 2 of the Magneto 24 led “box lights” (R250 each) which switch on automatically when the power goes off. At least I have wifi and lights during blackouts. If necessary, I cook and boil water on a 3kg gas bottle with a single plate (about R1000). Is this the kind of thing you’re asking about?

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    “I want to know how the country is working together to make this transition safe and affordable for everyone,” The nub. We would all like to know. Cos, in truth, we’re not. And spending an absolute fortune not working together on solutions that could, as you put it, provide light, power and the internet to provide households with some resilience to climate shocks. You make perfect sense, Christy, and our government, to put it mildly, is a bunch of wankers without a clue! Say it again, Christy. Doing so will say it clearer, more succinctly and louder. And do it copiously. Thank you.

  • Eugene Moll says:

    Excellent summary Christie. Hopefully this will not all fall on the many deaf-ears in the ANC and its allies. Time for communities to wake up and vote for any other party other than the ANC. Too long in power and now the “chiefs” care little for the person-in-the-street. We need a people’s awakening to VOTE FOR CHANGE!

  • Epsilon Indi says:

    Perhaps you should hold your tongue when it comes to making statements about “male-driven” sources. The reason many of those sources are “male-driven” is because males enter those fields more often than what women do, despite the playing field being levelled. Some industries just have more men in them than woman. If women such as yourself feel that those fields are too male dominated then perhaps you should all get up off your collective derrieres and do something instead of whining about men. It’s so fashionable to bash men at every opportunity, after all it’s open season on men, unfortunately, it seems, being woke does not carry a concomitant increase in intelligence. Being woke is going with flow whereas understanding that men are not out to get you, is not.

  • dBritBoer Maverick says:

    Many electronic devices actually run off 12v – even 32″ android tvs have a 12v connection if you open up the back! (look on YouTube) What I have done is connect an old 12v DStv power supply (free) straight onto an old 12v car battery (R500) and then to my 5G Rain router, as well as a 3 socket cigarette lighter “multiplug” I got at a Chinese store (R150) which takes car chargers for charging my phone and tablet. The small alarm system backup batteries also work but don’t last 4 hours. Then I have 2 of the Magneto 24 led “box lights” (R250 each) which switch on automatically when the power goes off. At least I have wifi, lights and charging during blackouts. If necessary, I cook and boil water on a 3kg gas bottle with a single plate (about R1000). I also have an as yet unused heater attachment for the gas bottle for deep winter cold. Is this the kind of thing you’re asking about?

  • Tom Boyles says:

    I agree with some of the criticisms here. What has this got to do with gender? But it’s also inaccurate. ‘I know it will pay off in the long run’ is nonesense and I would expect more from her. Unless you are a very high end user of daytime electricity, a basic domestic solar system never pays for itself. If like me, your family is at school or work during the week, much of the solar energy is wasted and extra storage is incredibly expensive. Without grid buy back schemes my savings don’t cover the interest payments on the capital, let alone pay off the capital. So please do better research and don’t fall for the ‘it pays itself off in 5 years’ nonesense that the companies spin.

  • Beth Bartlett says:

    Nailed it Christy, thank you

  • Josie Rowe-Setz says:

    There are some very good papers ilon small community energy systems, which work financially and increase life quality, and earnings. Check out the case work on Scottish wind energy on islands and in remore areas and for municipalities. In SA could be replicated but mix of wind/solar/biomass. Important to be able to sell surplus back into grid though. Thanks for article.

  • Robert Simmons says:

    About 9 years ago, when undertaking environmental assessments for an Spanish IPP developing wind energy facilities in South Africa, the client predicted that, as in Spain, once Eskom no longer had the monopoly on energy supply and distribution, then healthy competition would arise, efficiency would increase, supply would increase and electricity supply ( not to mention the innovations you mention Christy) would flourish. Alas Eskom are still in charge, our Spanish friends with technical know-how streets ahead of Eskom, were kicked out (by Eskom renaging on a distribution agreement), and here we are a decade with no direction, no power, and no competition. To paraphrase John Maytham, when asked why he sighs so much he replied, there’s a lot to sigh about….

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