Nelson Mandela University: PhD study proposes a new renewable energy statute for South Africa

Using the principles of international law and the regulatory systems in Germany and the UK, the PhD study of Roelof van Huyssteen proposed a new renewable energy statute for South Africa to promote environmental, economic and social development and to assist South Africa towards a just transition.

Roelof graduated with his PhD in Public Law at Nelson Mandela University’s Autumn Graduation. His supervisor was Public Law Professor Joanna Botha and the co-supervisors were Physics Professor Ernest van Dyk, who also specialises in renewable energy, and Professor Sam Adelman, from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom and affiliated to Public Law at Mandela Uni.

Understanding the science behind climate change and the technical aspects of renewable energy is a critical factor that must be considered when designing law and policy, says Roelof, (30). This understanding is what differentiates this study and created the opportunity for the disciplines of law and science to intersect.

The world’s overexploitation of fossil fuels has brought about many negative effects on our environment, human health, and socio-economic circumstances. The science supporting climate change is clear and there is an unequivocal scientific link between the world’s changing climate and the historical and continued reliance on fossil fuels, he says.

Considering South Africa’s current circumstances, renewable energy offers a solution not only to the climate crisis, but to South Africa’s socio-economic circumstances. However, the advantages of renewable energy can only be achieved on a significant scale if an appropriate legal framework is in place to develop and drive the renewable energy sector forward.

If adopted, the proposed regulatory changes will aid the decarbonisation of the South African electricity grid and promote the country’s response to climate change. It will also support the renewable sector and vulnerable communities, aiding economic and social development in the country.

The introduction of a new Renewable Energy Act will result in an increased renewable energy uptake because of conducive regulatory provisions underpinning the need to develop the renewable energy sector.

Prof Botha added that Roelof’s study is both original and significant: it combines science and law to propose a new regulatory renewable energy system, which will promote the uptake of renewable energy in the country and promote the achievement of sustainable development (a national and global priority).

The findings come at a crucial time: load-shedding prevails and a secure energy source is desperately needed; far more is required to overcome the ravages of climate change and the continued reliance on fossil fuels for energy is an unacceptable and unethical option, she says.

In Roelof’s words: “Working in the climate change and energy field on a daily basis, I came to realise that South Africa’s existing energy laws and policies were formulated to facilitate a conventional energy industry and the laws have entrenched fossil fuels as the most viable source of energy, without considering or promoting renewable energy resources.

There was a need to conduct research to establish what South Africa requires to do from a regulatory perspective to drastically increase the deployment of renewable energy technologies.

Roelof works for Pricewaterhouse Coopers at their Waterfall office in Johannesburg as an Energy Strategy Manager in the firm’s energy division and advises both public and private sectors on strategic energy matters.

Prior to joining PwC, he worked for a climate change consultancy firm, Promethium Carbon, where he also did strategic and regulatory work in both the private and public sectors. He believes he is fortunate to be able to use and apply his legal background in the consulting space.

His advice to law students is to not be blind to opportunities outside the legal practice. His legal and regulatory work increased tenfold when he left legal practice and joined the consulting world.

Although Roelof has been fortunate enough to be involved in projects where he could contribute to the design and interpretation of some of South Africa’s climate related laws and policies, his goal is to use his LLD research to help reform South Africa’s electricity sector to assist a just transition. “I hope to engage and inform both the public and private sectors on what is required from a regulatory perspective to drive the deployment of renewable energy forward in South Africa”, he says.

South Africa is in desperate need of innovative energy solutions to address our energy crisis. However, we lack the skills necessary to achieve this. I believe that Mandela Uni’s location being surrounded by some of the best renewable energy resources in the country, its commitment to sustainable development, and innovative mindset of the University’s leadership and students, provide the platform for the University to become a torchbearer in South Africa’s journey towards a becoming a just, decarbonised economy and society.

Roelof graduated with his LLM (cum laude) from Mandela Uni in 2015. He focussed on the regulatory aspects of carbon trading and carbon markets. Analysing the regulatory aspects of renewable energy was a natural “next-step” for him and builds on his research for his LLM.