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Understanding China's Involvement in South Africa's Renewable Energy Sector

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, Sussex Energy Group

Creating sustainable energy systems will be a defining challenge for humanity in the 21st century and one that requires an understanding of the technological, economic and political dimensions of...

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  • Mar 2, 2016

Suzanne Fisher-Murray

China is Africa’s largest trading partner, providing demand for the continent’s energy and minerals, and its direct investments in the continent are also on the rise. When Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited the African Union in 2014, he announced that China would raise its direct investment in the continent to $100 billion by 2020, mostly in infrastructure development.

Solar panels and telephones in Qunu in the Eastern Cape. South Africa. Creative Commons photo: Trevor Samson / World Bank.

Solar panels and telephones in Qunu in the Eastern Cape. South Africa. Creative Commons photo: Trevor Samson / World Bank.

While Chinese companies have been involved in Africa’s energy industry for years, particularly in hydro-electricity and fossil fuel extraction, the rise of China’s involvement in the continent’s renewable energy sector is relatively recent and an area ripe for further research.

New research, which aims to better understand China’s investment in South Africa’s renewable energy sector, will help provide some answers. Lucy Baker, from the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex and Wei Shen, from the Institute of Development Studies, have received a fellowship to better understand the drivers and obstacles to the expansion of Chinese renewable energy activities in South Africa.

There has been growing Chinese involvement in the wind and solar PV industries under South Africa’s renewable energy independent power producers’ procurement programme (RE IPPPP), a competitive bidding system for renewable energy generation by independent power producers. The research will focus on how Chinese companies and investors are involved in South Africa’s renewable energy, including their engagement in project development, investment, technology supply and manufacturing.

The research will also consider implications for Chinese involvement in emerging renewable energy development elsewhere in the region and for other middle-income economies with a significant renewable energy programme under development, such as Argentina, India and Brazil.

Their findings will be shared as a policy brief to be published by SAIS-CARI. The SAIS-CARI Fellowship they have been awarded allows researchers, policy-makers, or journalists to do field research on an under-explored policy issue related to China’s African engagement.


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