The social and economic relationship between renewable energy (solar) and gendered labour

The world faces a climate crisis due to the extraction and burning of fossil fuels which has supported industrialisation and capitalist expansion. One of the solutions to the climate crisis is to reduce carbon emissions by transitioning from a fossil fuel-based energy system to one based on renewable sources such as solar or wind energy. The just energy transition promises to address unemployment and poverty while reducing the carbon intensive nature of the energy system. However, this energy transition is complex and holds uncertainty and risk for many people, particularly workers and communities who depend on the coal value chain. This research report adopts a feminist political economy lens to explore the relationship between the development of renewable energy and gendered labour. This approach highlights the importance of the economy, the household and the state in the process of social reproduction. It is relevant to debates about a just energy transition because it highlights gender and racial inequalities and the undervalued and unpaid work required for social reproduction which should be addressed in any effort to achieve justice. By analysing the impact of the development of solar power plants on the workers and communities in three towns in the Northern Cape, and focusing on the three components of social reproduction, I find that the energy transition in its current form will not deliver justice for the poor and working classes.
A dissertation submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Commerce to the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2021
Climate crisis, Fossil fuels, Gendered labour