James Mackay
Rainmakers & Potstirrers

James Mackay

CEO: Energy Council of South Africa


Get our rainmakers & potstirrers app now
‘We will need reliable coal-driven power stations for decades to come’

SINCE his appointment as the first CEO of the Energy Council of South Africa in 2022, James Mackay has raised concerns about risks of being too slow at decarbonisation while cautioning that the transition to green energy in South Africa will take decades. In an interview, Mackay bemoaned the country’s lack of green technology innovation and the real risk of being shut out of global trade. But it’s a complex debate because he has also argued for fossil fuels. In a recent open editorial, he stressed the need for reliable coal power stations “for decades to come”.

Dovetailing renewable and coal energy is partly a function of Mackay’s concern that despite building primary wind and solar plants, South Africa doesn’t have the distribution infrastructure. On this theme he’s also posed the inconvenient question of how exactly South Africa’s mining companies expect to deliver on their ambitious renewable energy plans given this deficit. Mackay is, however, optimistic about the country’s ability to end load-shedding “as early as 2024” notwithstanding economists’ and Eskom’s estimates that it will be around for years.

The Energy Council came into being at the end of 2021 after calls from Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe that big business should sing from the same hymn sheet. The Energy Council’s founding members were energy-intensive industries such as Sasol, Exxaro, Anglo American and Toyota, as well as state-owned enterprises Eskom, the Industrial Development Corporation and the Central Energy Fund. At the time, critics complained about the absence of players in the renewable energy and storage market, but the Energy Council promised to broaden its membership. Two years down the line a handful of renewable energy and storage companies have joined as members.


Mackay has a CA (SA), a BSc Engineering degree from the University of Cape Town and a certificate in Infrastructure Financing from Harvard University. His corporate experience includes positions at Sappi, where he was an engineer, and at EY in an auditing capacity. He also held positions at the Industrial Development Corporation as an investment banker in 2005 and 2006. From 2007 to 2017 he had various executive managerial positions at Transnet, where he managed the iron ore and manganese operations, and assisted the state-owned entity with securing private-sector funding for infrastructure development. Prior to his appointment at the Energy Council of South Africa, he was an associate director at PwC.

More Rainmakers & Potstirrers