The traditional concern of federalism literature has been both descriptive and prescriptive. How do federalist systems allocate powers among central, regional, and even local governments? How can these powers be divided in a manner that allows for unity and diversity in policymaking and law? These questions are given greater pertinence by the seriousness of climate change and the need for a just transition to lower-carbon economies. Classical federalism, public choice theory, and dynamic energy federalism all have something to offer in the field of clean energy federalism. This article situates the ‘functional federalism’ that arises from South Africa's multi-sphere system of government within these debates. The article explains the system of functional federalism in South Africa and details the tripartite structure (physical, market, and regulatory) of the South African electricity sector. By delineating the complex interactions that have unfolded between governmental and non-governmental actors in the electricity sector in recent times, the article demonstrates that the South African case will be of continuing interest to scholars of federalism.