We examine underlying conflicts between technological capabilities and global production networks in South Africa’s solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind energy industries. This includes an analysis of the complex and multi-scalar relationships that exist between international and local institutions, as well as the embedded nature of renewable energy technology within a national and international political economy. In South Africa’s case, this encompasses endogenous factors such as the introduction of a regulatory framework for renewable energy independent power producers as well as international dynamics such as rapidly evolving trends in renewable energy investment, trade, and technology development. While South Africa’s wind and solar industries have been celebrated internationally, tensions exist within national government between commercial priorities and requirements for economic development including local content. We provide an empirically rich description to explore how competition and manipulation have posed obstacles to the localisation of renewable energy technologies at the national level.