Senior Fellow Q&A | André de Ruyter

André de Ruyter

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Senior Fellow

André de Ruyter joined the Jackson School as a Senior Fellow in 2023, and he also holds secondary appointments the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of the Environment. Until February 2023, de Ruyter was the chief executive of Eskom Holdings’ Group, South Africa’s state-owned electricity company that provides 95% of South Africa’s electricity needs and approximately 45% of the electricity used across Africa. With more than 30 years in the energy sector, he has also held high-level positions at Sasol, a large South African chemicals and energy conglomerate. and Nampak, the largest packaging company in Africa. Within the energy industry, de Ruyter has been committed to responsible and rapid decarbonization and played a key role in conceptualizing and negotiating the $8.5 billion SA Just Energy Transition facility announced at COP26.

André joined us for a Q&A in January 2024.

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Your career has spanned various areas of the energy sector. What, in particular, has drawn you to work in this sector?
Energy is the lifeblood of any modern economy, but it comes in many different forms — from coal, to nuclear, to natural gas, to wind and solar. The challenge of providing society’s energy needs in a sustainable way—while also meeting the needs of communities, stakeholders, and shareholders—has always been a fascinating and exciting challenge to me. The sheer diversity of opportunities in the sector, whether they be technological, geographic, financial, societal or environmental, has presented me with the chance to develop a career which has always been stimulating and rewarding.
What is South Africa’s approach toward renewable energy? How does it compare to the work other African nations are doing?
South Africa is very different to most other African countries in that it has a relatively well-developed electricity sector. It is, however, dominated by coal. South Africa’s per capita emissions are twice the global average which poses significant environmental, health, and economic challenges. However, in these challenges lie the opportunity to transition rapidly to a cleaner and greener economy, particularly since the bulk of South Africa’s coal-fired power stations are reaching the end of their useful lives.

Across much of Africa, the lack of adequate energy supply and a reliable grid conspire to ensure that many of the 900 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are still in the grip of energy poverty. In fact, the average African uses less electricity per year than an American refrigerator. Without access to reliable and affordable energy, developmental challenges and lack of economic opportunity will continue to deprive much of Africa of the opportunity to grow to its full potential. Finding financing to ensure that Africa can meet its energy needs, without defaulting to fossil fuels, will be a key challenge going forward.
You taught a course in Fall 2023 on just energy transitions and, in Spring 2024, will teach about climate finance. How do these two concepts work together?
The just energy transition is a concept coined by the U.S. labor movement in the 1980s to express the need for workers (and other stakeholders) to be involved in a meaningful and consultative manner while moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Without process legitimacy, and meaningful engagement to ensure the justness of the transition, it is likely that the transition will not be implemented and that fossil fuels will continue to dominate for longer than the planet can afford. Managing just transitions will therefore be crucial to ensure the successful and accelerated decarbonization of, in particular, the energy sector. The course I am teaching on climate finance examines the global disparities in nations’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as how the Global North has historically grown its economy in an unsustainable manner, meaning that the available carbon budget for nations in the Global South is far less than would be necessary if those countries developed along traditional trajectories.

In order to ensure equitable outcomes, society needs to figure out how to give the Global South access to adequate funding to enable sustainable growth. This requires examining technology, financing, project execution, and geopolitical considerations to determine how these outcomes can be achieved in a manner that is defensible and politically feasible in the Global North. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but I hope to co-create some helpful insights with my students as the semester progresses.
With many students interested in careers related to climate action, where do you see young professionals making the biggest impact — now and in the future?
With global climate change justifiably being top of mind for many people—especially younger people concerned about the future of the planet—I think that this space presents opportunities for almost any discipline taught at a university. We need business professionals to figure out innovative finance mechanisms; environmental scientists to come up with the smartest and most sustainable ways of mitigating the impacts of climate change; and policy experts to advise on laws and regulations to enable net zero to be achieved. And the list goes on.

If the world’s young professionals embraced the challenge of climate change with the same alacrity and innovation that has characterized the pursuit of cryptocurrency, we would maybe be on a more encouraging trajectory to limit global warming. To do this, we need the sharpest minds in town to focus on developing solutions — and I know that quite a few of those minds are on the Yale campus already.