By: Anna Majavu
A global group of development economists and natural resource scientists are lobbying for SMME green energy companies to be given much more public and private funding. The Green Energy Coalition made up of South Africa’s economics think tank TIPS and economic institutes from Uganda, India, Peru, Senegal, Mongolia and Trinidad and Tobago, want SMMEs working in solar and wind power to be given the chance to become catalysts for the transition to greener and fairer economies. “These firms are responsive to the needs of their communities and prioritise responsible operations that create jobs, husband local resources and bring prosperity to local people,” reads the Green Economy Coalition’s ‘Small is Powerful’ report.
The coalition wants local green enterprises to be officially recognised, and specific financial support to be targeted at green energy SMMEs in the micro and informal sectors. They say public finance institutions should find ways to carry some of the risks so that small and micro enterprises can avoid going broke when setting up as green energy entrepreneurs. One way to do this would be for national governments to provide incentives for tiny green energy companies.
They also recommend that green energy SMMEs cluster together to form green enterprise markets. Just Transition researcher and author Woodrajh Aroun said the common complaint from small green energy enterprises was the difficulty in accessing finance from both the public and private sectors. “This is despite repeated commitments from the South African government to provide support (financial and otherwise) to SMMEs dating back to the signing of the Green Accord in 2011,” said Aroun.
He cautioned that the local green enterprise concept also covered work such as recycling and waste management, and work in biomass energy, which was unlikely to be attractive to workers because it was precarious and low-income. Antony Martel, a Ph.D. candidate in Development Studies at Nelson Mandela University, works closely with the SaliTuba green energy co-operative based in KwaZakhele township in Gqeberha. SaliTuba is a small solar power project of 14 panels built on a makeshift roof above a vegetable garden. The cooperative hopes to generate enough energy to sell back to the grid.
Martel agreed that “the transformative potential for community-owned renewable energy is palpable, but financing is a key factor in determining the extent of its potential”. He told Vutivi News that green energy SMMEs should not be approached or valued purely from a free market perspective. “The success of a people’s (or socialised) renewable energy hinges on whether it is approached with a developmentalist or market liberal orientation. Our relationship to renewable energy could potentially end planetary and human domination versus our current situation where money, albeit ‘green’, determines our every move and drives us to extinction,” said Martel.