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EWSETA launches an African-first Hydrogen course showing the power of partnerships in the JET

While the new skills required to drive the Just Energy Transition (JET) are paramount, more important will be the behavioural change needed to ensure that all citizens, corporates, civil society, academia and learners understand the importance of this journey – not only for economic benefits but for a cleaner planet.

Achieving a just energy transition is the goal of the Presidential Climate Commission, to ensure that the people and communities tied to high-emitting energy industries (e.g., coal) are not left behind in the shift towards a low-emissions economy. As a result, the energy transition must be fair and inclusive.

Thus, South Africa’s move towards a Just Energy Transition seeks to diversify the energy mix, lessening our reliance on traditional sources such as coal towards cleaner and greener energy choices. While National Energy Month aims to drive new thinking among citizens to change their patterns to save energy, the JET has a goal to bring about a better future, while leaving no one behind.

Our government, in line with global organisations and environmentalists, predict that this would result in improved air quality and water use, the longevity of the country’s rich biodiversity, and the potential for new career paths and higher employment rates. School children and youth must be encouraged to study math and science in school to enable youth to explore exciting new careers in energy.

With a mandate to anticipate, build and strategically plan and manage skills development in South Africa, the Energy and Water Sector Education and Training Authority (EWSETA), strives to close the scarce and critical skills gap as per the requirements of the National Skills Development Plan 2030. One of the new training programmes just launched by EWSETA is an innovative Skills Programme for hydrogen system practitioners – the first in Africa – and potentially a game-changer in the renewables energy sector.

Says Mpho Mookapele, CEO – EWSETA, “As a government organisation, EWSETA is at the centre of efforts to drive the skills change. In line with our legislated mandate, our aim is to promote skills development in the energy and water sectors through among others, partnerships with businesses, educational institutions, and key stakeholders with a passion for capacitating our workforce through a strengthened Post School Education and Training system.”

There is potential to transform skills development through the capacitation of our Technical and Vocational Training Colleges (TVET Colleges). Simultaneously, the involvement of the entire higher education, NGO and private sectors needs to be harnessed to create the ecosystem to support the Just Energy Transition.

While mindful that it is necessary that the “just transition” strives to reduce the harmful impact on workers and communities in transitioning to a zero-carbon economy, we must ensure that benefits are equitably distributed. Skills are an essential component of this new paradigm.

The five-year Investment Plan (2023-2027) supporting South Africa’s goal of achieving a low-carbon economy and a climate-resilient society is expected to occur through the following interventions:

  • Creating quality jobs in new sectors like electric vehicles, green hydrogen, renewable energy, and manufacturing
  • Increasing energy security and ending load shedding through a massive rollout of new, sustainable energy sources
  • Addressing the risks of climate change and positioning South Africa to be an essential global player in the green economy of the future, and,
  • Boosting economic growth through more than R1 trillion of new investment in the South African economy.

The Just Energy Transition Plan highlights the commitment of multiple partners to facilitate a fair transition in South Africa, recognising its impact on livelihoods, workers, and communities. In line with EWSETA’s mission to forge a sustainable future through skills, our goals are crystal clear: to ensure adequate upskilling for the forthcoming energy transition.

“As an authority, EWSETA must ascertain the requisite skills needed as the world shifts toward renewable energy sources, and then provide strategies for upskilling and reskilling workers to meet these new demands,” says Mookapele.

The energy sector has already been in transition as the shift towards clean energy and a greater focus on renewable sources becomes imperative. However, the transformation in mindset has merely shown up the skills gap in the sector, with a shortage of workers with the necessary skills and knowledge ready to support the transition.

According to research conducted by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy in conjunction with the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), the skills gap in the energy sector is most pressing in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy management.

As a result, the country needs more engineers, technicians, and project managers skilled in renewable energy technologies and systems.

Consequently, workers must be adequately trained, particularly in the following skills:

  • Renewable energy technologies and systems
  • Energy efficiency
  • Energy management and analysis
  • Sustainable development practices
  • Project management and implementation

Inevitably, the workforce of the future must be proficient in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, as these can provide the foundation critical to understanding and applying renewable energy technologies.

Indeed, this imperative comes via the JETP Political Declaration, which makes clear that the Government aims to “establish an ambitious long-term partnership to support South Africa’s pathway to low emissions and climate-resilient development, to accelerate the just transition and the decarbonisation of the electricity system, and to develop new economic opportunities such as green hydrogen and electric vehicles amongst other interventions to support South Africa’s shift towards a low carbon future.”

EWSETA has been keen to promote collaboration between Government, business, and academia to support energy skills development. The EWSETA already offers a range of training programmes and initiatives, including apprenticeships, internships, learnerships, and skills programmes. One such example is the first in the country – the Hydrogen Fuel Cell System Practitioner skills programme which seeks to drive knowledge in the energy sector.

Striving to stay ahead of the game in providing the sector with programmes that will support businesses and the Government in keeping the pipeline qualified and empowered with the appropriate skill set, the EWSETA has finalised the first-of-its-kind skills programme for hydrogen system practitioners to be run by QCTO accredited providers. The intention is to expand the skills programme to a full qualification, and we are currently working with the industry in scoping the full qualification course curriculum.

Recognising that skills development has to evolve in line with the country’s needs of business – and the country, the EWSETA is proud of its Renewable Energy Specialisation Skills Development Programme in collaboration with Power Africa, a U.S. Government initiative coordinated by USAID, which develops skills in renewable energy among 100 unemployed women and 15 Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) lecturers in Mpumalanga, South Africa.

The programme’s long-term impact will equip Mpumalanga’s workforce with the skills to meet the demands of the changing economy and create opportunities for inclusive economic participation, especially for women and youth. The inclusion of TVET college lecturers in this training is a crucial component of the programme’s sustainability, enabling them to train future cohorts and adapt to new renewable technologies.

Another of their key initiatives is the Energy Efficiency Demand Side Management (EEDSM) programme, which promotes energy efficiency and reduces demand in South Africa. The initiative is a partnership between EWSETA and the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) and seeks to advance research on skills required to support emerging technologies and to deliver skills development projects that respond to South Africa’s legislation around Carbon Tax Act and Energy Performance Certificate Regulations to support EEDSM.

The EWSETA is making a vital contribution to skills development in the country via the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC).

SARETEC provides training and skills development programmes focused on renewable energy technologies, including wind, solar, and biomass. They also offer a range of courses and certifications, including a wind turbine service technician programme. These initiatives demonstrate the importance of collaboration between Government, business, and academia in promoting energy skills development and supporting the growth of the energy industry in South Africa.

According to the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell during the 15th South-Africa-European Union (EU) Ministerial Dialogue on 27 January 2023, the EU assured delegates of its full commitment to supporting South Africa’s vision for a greener and cleaner energy future. Borrell stated that the EU is actively working with South Africa to implement the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) and emphasized the importance of a just energy transition. He also announced that the EU will provide €35 million in grants and €1 billion of concessional loans through the European Investment Bank to support the transition.

The significance of skills development cannot be overstated when it comes to achieving the ambitious goals of the Just Energy Transition. Our commitment to meeting the country’s needs in this regard remains unwavering. Therefore, EWSETA calls upon businesses, academia, and government departments to unite in their efforts to equip South Africa with the necessary talent. It is imperative that we proactively develop the skills required to successfully implement the Just Energy Transition and ensure a sustainable future for our nation. Together, let us embrace this transformative journey and empower South Africa with the expertise needed to drive positive change.

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