Preparing for a major research project, such as an Master of Public Policy (MPP) thesis, is no easy endeavor. One has to grapple with choosing a topic, finding an expert supervisor, deliberating on research methodologies, as well as formulating and refining research questions. As for me, my research interests in sustainable energy transitions is something that I carried on from my undergraduate studies at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Upon commencing the MPP program at the Brandt School, I always made a concerted effort to register for courses that were related to my research interests. The most relevant and helpful courses that I participated in were Governance of Environmental Problems: Towards Green Transformation as well as Energy Transitions. Nonetheless, these MPP seminars were helpful in sustaining my research interests in energy transitions.
Moreover, the seminars enabled me to have a profound and extensive understanding of the various research gaps that needed to be covered and public policy problems related to energy transitions that could potentially be tackled through research and policy analysis. Another useful seminar that I participated in, and highly recommend, is the Research Methods and Design seminar, offered every summer term. The seminar helped me sharpen my skills and knowledge as to how to design a research project, as well as deciding on and implementing a range of research methods.
My internship with the World Wind Energy Association (WWEA) in Bonn was also useful in helping me prepare the groundwork of my MPP thesis. During my time with the WWEA, I undertook preliminary research on the financial sustainability and resilience of South Africa’s finance and procurement model of deploying renewable energy technologies. My internship with the WWEA, was not only useful in enabling me to have a sense of direction and ideas regarding my MPP research focus, objectives and questions. The internship, most importantly, exposed me to international wind energy industry experts. These networks helped me gather useful information, and answer complex questions that I had regarding sustainable energy transitions.
Nonetheless, my MPP thesis focuses on South Africa’s emerging wind energy sector. The South African business model of financing and deploying wind energy technologies (RETs) has been hailed as a success model, both in sub-Saharan Africa as well as the international arena. In a space of only five years (2011-2016), South Africa’s wind industry had established itself as a major new infrastructure sector and worth about ZAR 75 billion (EUR 5.5/USD 5.8 bn).
Unfortunately, despite the surge in wind energy investments in South Africa, there are some complexities that exist within South Africa’s political-economy that make it difficult for an increased uptake of community owned wind. What certainly exists in South Africa’s wind energy sector, now, are large, utility-scale commercial wind farms whose majority shareholders are foreign investors. This, without doubt, presents a public policy problem and has grave consequences in ensuring a just, inclusive, and sustainable energy transition within South Africa’s wind energy sector.
Given this background the objective of my MPP research project is to understand why there is a limited uptake of community owned wind in South Africa. I am certain that the research project is important in underlining the need for a comprehensive renewable energy policy framework, in South Africa, that would guarantee a more inclusive and just energy transition. The results of the research would also be useful in providing some important lessons for other nascent, and emerging, renewable markets in Southern Africa and the rest of the African continent.