#PowerTracker: Investigating renewable energy initiatives in Southern Africa
Entry type: Single project
Country/area: South Africa
Publishing organisation: Oxpeckers Investigative Environmental Journalism, Centre for Investigative Journalism, Mail & Guardian, IOL News, MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism, IJ Hub, Global Investigative Journalism Network (newsletter), Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi, Sunday Mail, Mmegi, Xinhua News, CAJ News Africa, GoTopNews, Daily News, Wah! and Africa in News.
Organisation size: Small
Publication date: 2022-07-15
Authors: Fiona Macleod, Nompumelelo Mtsweni, Roxanne Joseph, Erofilli Grapsa, Sechaba Mokhethi, Thabo Molelekwa, Debra Matabvu, Sharon Tshipa, Phathizwe Zulu and Yolandi Groenewald
Oxpeckers is Africa’s first journalistic investigation unit focusing on environmental issues. It combines traditional investigative reporting with data analysis and geo-mapping tools to expose eco-offences and track organised criminal syndicates.
The Centre for Investigative Journalism’s (CIJ) Open Climate Reporting Initiative focuses on raising the standard of environmental investigations to enable thoroughly researched public interest reporting and evidence-based advocacy through training and skill-sharing with target audiences across six different regions.
Global governments and international corporations are investing huge amounts of money into supporting the transition to a low-carbon economy in Africa, and elsewhere. Billions of dollars are pledged to kickstart ambitious national programmes to build renewable-energy resources and move away from fossil fuels. #PowerTracker investigated where this investment ends up, and how it is being used. We provided training and ongoing support for journalists in Southern Africa–and beyond–over the course of several months, which culminated in the publication of a series of data-driven investigations, and a new and unique dataset that focuses on renewable energy projects in the region.
The biggest impact of #PowerTracker was empowering and upskilling local journalists and media outlets, which has resulted in enhancing the capacity of Southern African data journalism.
Following publication of five in-depth investigations and the release of an exclusive dataset related to close to 200 green energy initiatives across the region, the project was published in more than a dozen local and international media outlets (in total, it was published 22 times); team members were invited to share their findings on numerous panels and conferences (notably, the [African Investigative Journalism Conference](https://aijc.africa/aijc2022-programme/) and the [Code for All Summit](https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ofIwMP9v5Q)); more than 300 journalists were trained in data-based environmental journalism, using [project material](https://oxpeckers.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Strengthening-Environmental-Journalism-PowerTracker-Learning-Narrative.pdf); we have seen increased awareness on green energy projects in the region; new information about some of the renewable energy projects investigated was revealed (and will contribute to the region’s shift towards cleaner energy resources); and the project’s journalists have been approached by sources (government and otherwise) to do follow-up stories.
We also partnered with 20 different organisations to source and access data, developed and hosted four training modules, ran eight different social media campaigns and reached 124,621 unique users on our website and social media platforms.
Towards the end of the project, we received support from the Climate Emergency Collaboration Group to continue our work, and centre our focus on tracking financial flows in power generation projects in the Mpumalanga province, South Africa’s energy heartland. In 2023, we will seek to answer questions such as, where the funding for a project is coming from, how much money has been invested and by whom, and how many new jobs will be created—all against the backdrop of an ongoing energy crisis and a Just Transition to renewable energy.
All of the data we collected was published on our [Oxpeckers’ Get the Data repository,](https://oxpeckers.org/get-the-data/) and used as part of our investigations. All of the information we collected is open-source, and available for anyone to access.
The data we collected is the first of its kind in the region, and includes the capacities of various energy projects, countries where they are implemented, how much carbon emissions these projects are reducing, who is funding them, how much they cost, and many other details.
This information was aggregated, analysed and visualised using Google Sheets, Tableau Public, Terminal (iTerm2), Flourish, Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, as well as Canva. These were used to extract information about the finances behind renewable energy initiatives in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Our analysis and visualisations formed the backbone of each investigation.
It will also be used as part of the second round of #PowerTracker, where we are creating a mapping tool that allows users to track and map renewable energy initiatives in Mpumalanga, South Africa, and eventually, across the region.
Context about the project:
Our biggest challenge was obtaining official data. We overcame this by working with NGOs, law enforcement and government agencies to access the data we needed. This data, particularly when it came to the finances, highlighted a lack of transparency and how difficult it is to get this kind of information. When we collated the data and analysed it, we discovered instances of financing that lacked significant detail, potential ‘shady’ dealings by officials and the need to continue monitoring these projects closely.
Another challenge was how quickly the context in which we were working changed and evolved. From the announcement of [South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Investment Plan](https://www.thepresidency.gov.za/download/file/fid/2645) to the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27). Most recently, South Africa secured loan agreements from France and Germany, to aid its transition from coal to cleaner energy sources like solar and wind. This forms part of an initial $8.5 billion pledged by the US, UK, France, Germany and the EU. South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Investment Plan, unveiled shortly before COP7, sets out ambitious targets for spending this money over the next five years. This is just one example where a lot of money has been promised and the spending will need to be monitored closely.
Not only did we follow the news closely, we focused our [final public webinar](https:////youtu.be/uSlWLg9zghY) for the project on COP27’s outcomes, and how this would impact our work going forward.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
When we began #PowerTracker, in early 2022, we sought to upskill investigative environmental journalists to use data in their work, and in their role in the fight against the climate crisis. By honing in on the Southern African region and focusing our efforts on a select few grantees, we believe our efforts were successful.
Not only have their investigations been widely shared—showcasing the importance of data-driven investigative environmental journalism within the context of a shift towards renewable energy—but we were also able to train other journalists, and expand these skills across the region and into local newsrooms. Additionally, we have created an in-depth resource pack (including training material, videos, investigations, data and the learning narrative) that can be used by others in their work.
We have also shown how to turn data into a compelling and important environmental story. By training journalists how to work with data, we have published numerous investigations that use #PowerTracker data to tell their stories, lending our voice to issues around climate change, a Just Transition to renewable energy, financial flows and the impact these projects have on surrounding communities. We see these stories as demonstrating what newsworthy and good quality data journalism looks like.