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Exploring, and attempting to explain, the origins and development of South African energy policy can take a number of different routes. Contrary to the ordinary use of the term ‘energy policy’ by analysts and practitioners, a historical review such as the one undertaken below gives rise to significant complications, given the changes in the way in which ‘energy policy’ has been defined or understood in different periods, in South Africa and elsewhere. The concept of ‘energy’ is relatively new, dating back only to the mid-19th century in physics, and the concept of ‘energy policy’ is even more recent, as is its associated ‘energy policy vocabulary’ (concepts such as ‘energy planning’, ‘energy balance’ or even ‘energy demand’). The concept of ‘energy policy’ first appeared in the latter half of the 20th century in industrialized countries, and was centered around the concept of the ‘energy sector’, a new way of organizing our thinking about these industries, their development, and most importantly, the connection between them. Previously, governments had been concerned to various degrees with the supply and production of wood, coal, electricity and petroleum; the birth of energy policy heralded not only a new project1 of government involvement in the sub-sectors and related components of the energy sector per se, but a new conceptual basis for government involvement in society and the economy, based on the introduction of an unfamiliar quantitative measure (Joules) into public policy processes: whereas previously the cost and the volume or mass of each energy carrier were the only quantities of significance to policy makers, the energy content now became significant to decision-makers. Energy policy denoted a new area of activity for government, which not only linked previously separate sets of activities, but rapidly led to new patterns of research, regulation, planning and investment. The energy crisis, various environmental crises, and new perspectives on energy development issues outside the DECD led to new concepts such as the energy system, and demand-driven energy policy based on ‘energy services’ in addition to or as an alternative to the supply-based concepts of the industrial energy sector, including non-commercial energy production, transactions and use.

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