In South Africa’s energy sector, several renewable technologies are mature enough to roll out, but need the right support in the right contexts. Around the world, attempts to adopt new or improved technologies often fail because they focus on the ‘hardware’ and ignore the complex mix of interconnected social, institutional, economic and policy issues that can limit success. Academic studies reveal the main ingredients for successful technology adoption, and this briefing outlines these for policymakers and practitioners, along with some practical guidance in the context of energy access and rural development in South Africa and the CHOICES project.
It’s easy to get carried away by the thought of how a new technology could transform people’s lives — the temptation is often to roll it out as quickly as possible.
But focusing on the hardware may be the wrong start. Getting people to adopt new or improved technologies does not happen overnight. A whole raft of influences, such as skills, institutions, policies and economics, affect the process.
This is particularly pertinent to the energy sector. Renewable energy technologies have differing success in different countries, and this often has little to do with the technology and a lot to do with one or more socioeconomic factors. Many technology options — such as solar photovoltaics, small-scale hydropower, or biomass to power — are approaching both technical maturity and economic parity with conventional power sources.
But South Africa has seen much lower uptake of renewable energy technology than some other countries. By 2012, South Africa had achieved less than 25 per cent of its 10,000 gigawatt hours target (set for 2013), and renewable energy was less than 10 per cent of the country’s overall generation. So if the technology is ready, why aren’t people choosing it?