Mike Mulcahy

Chief executive, GreenCape

Saving the world is about people turning sustainable talk into action. That requires finding money and ensuring it goes into projects that reduce carbon emissions, and create a greener world. Mike Mulcahy was in the right pace at the moment, in 2010, when South Africa needed people who could do this sort of thing. It was at this point that he finished his year’s internship at the Western Cape’s economic development and tourism department and joined GreenCape.

This was created as the single entity to bring together all the environment and economic work that was starting to explode across the province. Then there were only two people at the company. Now there are over 40. With degrees in business and development finance from the University of Cape Town, it was Mulcahy’s fascination with energy markets made him indispensable to that growth. Those markets helped create civilisation as it stands today; until recently, energy and economic growth have been intimately linked.

He wanted to find ways to delink the two so new kinds of energy could be used to power a better future. That is at the heart of moves to create a green economy, where carbon emissions are lowered by using resources efficiently, in a manner that is socially inclusive. But Mike has found that convincing people to think like that requires compromise and trade-offs. That’s a practical ability that traditional environmentalists are often unwilling to apply. It has allowed him to play a leading role in setting up the Greentech Special Economic Zone, where R680-million has been invested in the sort of hub that will create South Africa’s future.

On a national scale, GreenCape and Mulcahy were instrumental in bringing in R17-billion worth of investment into renewable energy projects and local manufacturing. That’s a big chunk of the R200-billion in projects across the country. But this work is now under threat, with Eskom stalling on signing off on the latest round of renewable power plants. Being at a crossroads where renewable energy appears to be halted in favour of a nuclear build depresses Mulcahy. But he is part of a generation of people who believe that the market will win on through.

As chair of the South African Renewable Energy Incubator, he is making sure that this happens. That will drive a local green economy, with factories and expertise creating a ripple effect across the continent. That will allow countries to leapfrog, avoiding the need to build large and expensive power plants, and the transmission network that goes with them. Much like with cellphones doing a similar thing, Mike believes that renewable energy will unlock massive potential on the continent. While helping to drive that process, he’s spending as much time as possible escaping into nature.

— Sipho Kings

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/ michael-mulcahy-72008943