With South Africa’s energy mix currently being decided and debated, experts and leaders in this space believe the time to champion renewable energy is now. There is also an urgency to convert a general awareness and understanding about renewable energy into tangible action.
These were some of the key issues teased out and discussed at the US Embassy Pretoria’s Energy21: Exchange Hub on telling the renewable energy story differently, which wrapped up last week.
The event, which drew over 60 people working in the renewable energy sector, focused on tactics for telling the renewable energy story differently in South Africa.
Participants considered how to best reach, touch, inform and convert new audiences, which is especially relevant following the announcement of South Africa’s updated Integrated Resource Plan 2020-2030 and the success of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme (REIPPPP).
Renewable energy journey
“South Africa is at the beginning of a very important renewable energy journey,” said Elizabeth McKay, minister Counsellor for public affairs at the US Embassy. “Finding new champions of renewable energy and encouraging more action will require us to shift the renewable energy narrative,” she added.
Driving this message home at Energy21: Exchange Hub – a partnership between the US Embassy South Africa, World Bank’s Connect4Climate and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – were communications, climate change and renewables experts, including the World Bank’s Max Edkins, Green Cape’s Aman Baboolal, FirstRand Limited’s Madeleine Ronquest and Intellidex’s Colin Anthony.
“South Africa’s renewables story is truly inspirational. We are transitioning towards a renewable future, which opens up opportunities. By communicating more, we strengthen the possibility of a renewables-focused future. It’s also the most pressing challenge of our time and our generation’s time,” said Edkins, climate change and communications expert at the World Bank’s Connect4Climate programme.
Tremendous headway made
David Shelby, director of public engagement at the US State Department, said: “In the last five years South Africa has made tremendous headway for renewables – as evidenced by the highly successful REIPPP programme roll-out.
This, in turn, has played an important part in building the economy and job creation. Now is the time to start telling this story and to communicate the benefits.”
Energy21: Exchange Hub saw communications experts paired with current and future leaders in the private sector, non-government organisations, and government who work on renewable energy policy and promotion to partake in strategic discussions and training.
Through discussing tactics – ranging from strategies for creating compelling, sticky content, reaching rural communities, designing communications campaigns to data visualisation – influential industry minds explored new solutions for achieving greater awareness and public support for the renewable energy movement.
Cost competitiveness studies
One of the main messages about renewable energy is that it is no longer as expensive as people think.
Dr. Tobias Bischof-Niemz, manager of CSIR’s Energy Centre, said solar and wind energy cost competitiveness studies build a strong economic case and sound positioning for renewables.
This is especially important at a time when the Department of Energy’s updated Integrated Resource Plan will be discussed to determine the country’s energy mix structure. “Building new energy capacity from wind and solar is less costly than coal. Additionally, these also offer CO2 and water reductions,” said Bischof-Niemz.
“While educating the public on renewables must be grounded in science, there is also the need to work together to create public awareness on renewables, to stimulate community interest – in both urban and rural areas – and engage meaningfully.”
This sentiment was echoed by Edkins who believes that success lies in developing strong partnerships to drive a focused message on renewables. Connect4Climate is already testimony of what can be achieved.
Shared passion and commitment
Established partnerships with stakeholders, ranging from non-governmental organisations to the United Nations, have helped to harness Connect4Climate’s mandate of combating climate change through actions driven by solutions.
The conversations and outcomes from Energy21: Exchange Hub will continue with the intention of creating a strong and connected network within the renewable energy and communications industry. Participants acknowledged their shared passion for and commitment to telling the renewable energy story differently, leading the way in creating narratives that touch the hearts and minds of all South Africans.
An agreed Action Plan by all Energy21: Exchange Hub participants will continue its momentum throughout 2017.
However, change really begins with each participant and their will to drive home change in their renewables environment. “For us, success is for each person within the renewables industry to go home and implement one idea from Energy21 in t