South Africa is a “canary in a coal mine” for the world’s upcoming ecological crises, especially regarding electrical energy provision for a developing modern society, because aspects of the South African situation may be repeated elsewhere when ecological limits constrain economic activity. We describe the South African context in terms of social issues and economic development policies, environmental issues, and the electrical energy situation in the country. We explore implications of the South African context for the provision of electrical energy in terms of development objectives, climate change, the electrical grid, water, and solar, wind, ocean, and hydro energy resources. Thereafter, we explore future directions for electrical energy provision in the country, including some important questions to be answered. Next, we offer a rational way forward, including an assessment favoring concentrated solar power (CSP) as a path of least resistance for decoupling South Africa’s energy use from upstream and downstream environmental impacts. We conclude with some learnable lessons from the South African context for the rest of the developing and developed world.

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