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STEM Education Plays Vital Role in SA’s Move Towards Energy-Efficient Future

In the wake of COP26, decisive action was taken by the South African government to concretise its commitment to the Just Energy Transition – a move towards a sustainable, low carbon and equitable energy system – as a national imperative. On the positive side, major players in the local energy sector have followed suit, joining the fray of South African industry leaders who have demonstrated their support of this mandate.

However, now, as the drive towards a more sustainable future accelerates, it’s clear that skilled workers within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industries are needed, who are equipped to design, develop, execute and manage renewable energy programmes.

This is according to Mustafa Soylu, CEO of Defy Appliances, who says that upskilling within this field is of particular relevance within our unique socioeconomic context, with South Africa notoriously having the highest Gini coefficient (measurement of income distribution across the population) in the world. “Our country faces a widening divide in terms of wealth and opportunity.

“This is a gap that training, and education can serve to bridge, particularly in STEM careers that are characterised by their ability to pay a living wage, thus tackling poverty.”

However, he highlights that there is certainly no ‘quick fix’, and successfully making the transition towards a more sustainable and equitable energy system requires a long-term commitment from all stakeholders.

Defy’s WE-InTech programme is one such example; offering training, internships and job opportunities to women pursuing careers in the STEM fields. The initiative is centred around increasing participation in new generation Research and Development (R&D), offering a sustainable solution that will contribute to building a more inclusive economy.

In alignment with this plan of action, Eskom also recently announced its decision to invest in upskilling staff to become renewable energy artisans – a resolve that has been heralded as a move in the right direction.

Through partnering with the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC) in a memorandum of agreement signed last month, Eskom made clear its intention to upskill technicians and qualifying community members in renewable energy. This too demonstrates support for the Just Energy Transition (JET) Strategy, facilitating a shift from its current dependency on coal whilst prioritising labour and job creation.

Soylu has expressed his endorsement of this decision by Eskom, which, as he claims, it will “develop a trained and capable workforce that can make strides in building a strong and sustainable local renewable energy sector, providing viable solutions to the ongoing energy crisis.” He added that this investment will assist the country in meeting global and local environmental objectives.

In conclusion, Soylu says: “we must ensure that all solutions to the energy crisis are socially responsible as well as sustainable, in that they benefit the individual and community as well as the broader environment.”

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