With new board members appointed at State-owned utility Eskom, it is important that they rebuild and instil confidence in the board and communicate adequately with the market on what they are doing to stabilise the utility, and the hosting of this year’s Power & Electricity World Africa (PEWA) will be used as a platform to engage with the market and address people’s concerns.
“Eskom can, by using PEWA as a platform, address people’s concerns on their terms and reassure the market about measures they have put in place to turn the utility around,” event organisers Terrapinn energy and resources GM Samukelo Madlabane suggests.
He adds that Eskom board member and energy solutions company Matleng Energy CEO Nelisiwe Magubane will speak at the event. She was also a former director-general of the Department of Energy, which has given her insight into Eskom’s structure and management.
Madlabane believes that Eskom will stabilise, especially with strengthened governance that entailed the appointment of new Eskom chairperson Jabu Mabuza and other board members, including Magubane, Sifiso Dabengwa, Sindi Mabaso-Koyana, Mark Lamberti, Tshepo Mongalo, Malegapuru Makgoba, Busisiwe Mavuso, Rod Crompton, George Sebulela, Pulane Molokwane, Banothile Makhubela and Jacky Molisane, in January.
“The event also provides an opportunity for municipalities to engage with Eskom, which provides clarity and direction on all levels of the country’s energy service and management,” says Madlabane.
While Eskom is ironing out its governance and strategy, he says Africa’s biggest limiting factor for growth in the energy sector is policy uncertainty.
One typically finds that a lack of investment correlates with policy uncertainty and lack of direction from government and/or government sending conflicting messages, Madlabane elaborates.
“Members of governing departments and utilities often have conflicting views and agendas, which pulls the sector in different directions,” with countries subsequently having to deal with an environment that creates uncertainty for investors.
These limiting factors need to be kept in mind when Terrapinn sets up the agenda for PEWA, says Madlabane. “It is vital to understand each country’s – out of the more than 40 African countries attending PEWA – challenges and the topics of discussion that are necessary to grow its energy sector.
He says skills are also a concerning issue that is limiting growth. “There are more projects being taken on by Chinese investors and not only do they appoint their own workforce out of China but also leave after projects have been completed, without transferring skills and knowledge to communities around the project.”
Despite the challenges in many African countries, Madlabane says African energy sectors often showcase innovation that is sometimes unheard of on other continents. For example, paying for electricity using mobile cash, which is a way of transferring money securely through any mobile number to buy prepaid electricity.
“Another example of a unique service in the energy sector is in Zambia, where its power utility, Zesco, uses mobile communication to inform residents of blackouts for specified times,” he explains. Zesco has access to meter numbers – associated with resident’s cellphone numbers – that are connected to the specific transformer that is due for downtime.
Additionally, Zesco also offers a direct messaging platform for users to communicate with utility officials. Madlabane says this service is certainly rare globally, and PEWA creates awareness of such innovations.
PEWA also creates awareness about trends, such as the Internet of Things and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, that affect energy sectors across Africa, especially suppliers and manufacturers to the sector, since digital aids and automation are increasingly being accepted as industry standards.