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An assessment of community renewable energy as one of the options for transition to low-carbon energy in South Africa (Gauteng).

Monare, Kgomotso Sarah


Kgomotso Sarah Monare


Abhishek Agarwal


Governments around the world are actively developing policies that encourage consumers to move from passive to active engagement in localised renewable energy projects. In particular, small-scale, decentralised community renewable projects are being promoted as a means to diversify electricity sectors. However, there remains scant research exploring issues of social resources in communities, particularly prior to renewable energy project development. The present study addresses this knowledge gap by assessing public perceptions, and the factors that promote or inhibit the formation of community solar projects. This research examined the salience and influence of four factors: (1) the perceptions of civil society and experts; (2) the challenges of developing community renewable energy projects; (3) the recent progress made with solar photovoltaic (PV) technology; and (4) a comparison of the policies that support community renewable energy. Defining these four factors provides an understanding of the transformation potential for community solar projects to contribute toward the transition to low-carbon energy in South Africa. The proposed research is a single, exploratory, qualitative case study set in the urban suburbs of Johannesburg, Gauteng (South Africa). The study draws on qualitative data from in-depth interviews with twenty-five stakeholders from various communities, renewable energy experts, local government representatives, government agencies and the energy market. The study deployed an integrated approach in explaining and addressing the transformation potential of community renewables. It was through the application of the socio-technical transitions framework – the multi-level perspective (MLP), as well as the use of social capital theory - that the technological and social components of community renewable energy were understood. The proposed study provides new insights into the possible developments of technology and society (co-evolution), and thus contributes to the growing literature on transitions at a micro-level of the MLP theory (both technological and social). Thematic analysis revealed strong social trust within communities and an eagerness to engage in projects that contributed to community development. However, participants held varying views on whether they trusted shared ownership ventures with private developers or local municipalities. Participants considered community participation in all projects to be a key factor. The study shows that, for community projects to materialise, it is necessary for individuals to commit to the endeavour of community solar projects. There is also a need for government to introduce mechanisms that provide the support needed for such projects to succeed. This research suggests that greater commitment to diversification, beyond the implementation of legislative measures such as community benefits, is required. This would ensure local development and energy sustainability in communities. Furthermore, this research provides evidence for the importance of social resources to ensure the economic sustainability of community solar projects. The findings herein encourage discussions about the prospects of community participation in renewable energy in South Africa. This research also provides an essential contribution to policymakers considering moving forward with inclusive and participatory policies, and engaging in practices that will ensure wider-participation, ultimately contributing toward national priorities. The findings suggest that government should consider frameworks that will effectively promote, foster and regulate both small-scale solar PV deployment and community renewable energy (CRE) projects in the future.


MONARE, K.S. 2019. An assessment of community renewable energy as one of the options for transition to low-carbon energy in South Africa (Gauteng). Robert Gordon University [online], PhD thesis. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 22, 2020
Publicly Available Date Jul 22, 2020
Keywords Renewable energy projects; Community projects; Community participation; Urban sustainability; Solar photovoltaic technology; Social capital
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