The Political Economy of Decarbonisation: Exploring the Dynamics of South Africa’s Electricity Sector

This paper presents an in-depth and historical analysis of the key features of South Africa’s electricity sector and the stakeholders and beneficiaries operating within it. An exploration of the sector’s structure and governance is included; the success or lack thereof of key policy developments in creating accountable systems of decision-making and facilitating the introduction of renewable energy, particularly since the end of apartheid; and the role of key institutions and individuals in shaping and/or blocking such developments. Such an analysis is essential in order to understand how technologically feasible scenarios of decarbonisation are either blocked or supported by political and economic forces. We find that, while there are positive cases of decarbonisation in South Africa’s electricity sector, there are also structural path dependencies in the electricity and energy sector more broadly, around coal fired generation and security of supply for pre-existing Eskom plants. These path dependencies are compounded by a lack of transparency in decision making on electricity and power struggles in the policy sphere, all of which present key challenges to decarbonisation.