Access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is a pre-condition for sustainable economic development. This is the case in South Africa, where the workforce and entrenched fossil fuel industry remain sceptical about a transition to renewable energy. This article explores the complexity of energy regulation in countries with a deep-seated economic dependency on fossil fuels. South Africa presents a good case study of the challenge of balancing the environmental, social and economic imperatives of energy. It unpacks the drivers behind directed regulation towards renewable electricity. A painful, but necessary, “just transition” to a low-carbon economy requires laws to phase-out fossil fuels, without exposing public funds to private profit seekers. The South African experience of renewable electricity demonstrates the challenges of regulatory uncertainty. Careful legal reforms are necessary to rid existing electricity laws of their inertia and achieve a low-carbon economy while ensuring access to affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable energy.