Mark Borchers from SEA writes on the difficulties faced in and with energy efficiency programs and policies in South Africa. South Africa has had an official, approved energy efficiency strategy since 2004. Therein were sensible targets such as 15% industrial energy efficiency improvement by 2014 and 10% residential efficiency by 2014, with an overall efficiency target of 12% by 2014. And our work in the area supported this potential for saving. At the time we were hopeful that this would be the start of a more energy efficient, lower carbon trajectory for the country with corresponding economic benefits which are always mentioned in association with energy efficiency. These were fairly naïve days for us however, as we believed that there was a necessary link between an official government strategy and something actually changing on the ground. In 2008 the strategy was reviewed and updated partly because it was clear that the earlier strategy had been largely ineffectual. The revised strategy was done with due diligence and stakeholder participation, like the earlier one, and listed similar or higher targets as being reasonable and achievable. My opinion is that, in spite of a reasonably sound efficiency programme run by the national utility Eskom, the new strategy was headed along the same ineffectual trajectory as the earlier one… until South Africa hit a power crisis – but I’ll come back to that.
Here I feel it is worth emphasizing an often observed but still not widely internalized fact: that an official strategy is a useful and necessary step, but it is one small factor in creating an enabling environment in which a transition can take place. How many officials, researchers, consultants and international development organisations are willing to rest on their laurels once the strategy is in place with the belief that the ship has now left the harbor and will arrive at its destination in due course? The truth is that the strategy is the easy part – its just identifying that the ship should undertake a journey and the approximate route of that journey. The crew, the skills, the supplies, the money, and the equipment have not been given much thought at this point typically. Even if the strategy identifies where the money should come from (for example) that is a far cry from actually sourcing the money. If the strategy development is undertaken in a participatory manner with proper background analysis, it has clear value in capacity building and alignment of stakeholders as well as plotting an appropriate journey, so it is certainly a prerequisite to progress, but my point is that it can very easily lead nowhere after this point unless we are aware that it is just one milestone on a journey of many miles, and should never be regarded as an endpoint of our work. It is appropriate to pause and look upon the still-warm strategy document with pride, even to hold an official launch, but then to roll up your sleeves and start on the journey of embedding the strategy in the world.
…back to South Africa: Then along came South Africa’s power crisis and steep power price increases. This caused a flurry of activity, including energy efficiency initiatives in all sectors of the economy, most of which had little or nothing to do with the official energy efficiency strategy! National Treasury also put aside money for local government efficiency and allocated it to municipalities with binding reporting requirements and timeframes. The main drivers for efficiency in the country have therefore been power failures, price increases and direct allocation of Treasury funds within a mandatory framework, not the existence of an Energy Efficiency Strategy. There are lessons here for policy development work, capacity building activities, knowledge exchange research and implementation support activities: constraints to transition are mostly not to do with the existence of appropriate policies and strategies, which are often sound and well founded, but rather the detailed and complicated dynamics of the space between policy and implementation, which is generally messy, under-capacitated, and full of conflicting interests and misalignment of priorities. This fact is a central tenet around which the design of the SAMSET project was formulated.