May 14, 2009
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Modise: Martin, welcome. South Africa is to host the world's biggest global solar energy conference in Johannesburg, in October. Tell me more about it.
Creamer: Renewable energy is on the lips of politicians the world over, and it's quite a coup now for South Africa to be the host of this very big solar energy congress. It's organised by the International Solar Energy Society, and it will be called Solar World Congress 2009, held in Johanesburg, to update the world on what is happening in renewable energy as a whole, but solar energy in particular.
And always something new out of Africa is the first time we've ever had it hosted in South Africa, but already, from Africa, we have Professor Vivian Alberts, of Johannesburg University, who's come through with the very thin film solar panel, which is bringing people down the cost curve. Of course, the targets that we've got for renewable energy in South Africa are going to come under scrutiny at this particular congress where we're talking about 3% renewable energy by 2012. People feel that should be firmed up to a higher percentage. We've got twice the amount of sun that Berlin has, and Germany is already on close to 15% renewable energy and we need to move forward at a faster pace.
Modise: The South African government wants platinum manufacturing, not just platinum mining and it's putting its money where its mouth is. How so?
Creamer: Government is doing a project called Hydrogen South Africa and, of course, it's looking to the fuel cell, which uses a lot of platinum. We are the biggest platinum miners in the world, but we don't actually manufacture much at all from platinum. Of course, Sasol has always had to be interested in catalysis and that involves platinum and platinum group metals in the producing of petrol and diesel from coal. So there is this expertise in catalysis in the country, which is already quite an advantage.
The Department of Science and Technology put R50-million into the coordination into three areas of competence around this whole fuel cell issue and the dawning of the hydrogen age. Many people feel that the world is about to exploit the clean energy that can come out of this hydrogen age and the fuel cell, and right in the middle of it is South Africa, with its platinum, because most of these fuel cells make use of platinum.
We know that you can get electricity from those fuel cells and then benign water is the waste product. So it is a very clean way to go, there's no combustion, it can be the big engine of the future. South Africa doesn't want to be left behind and it'll be interesting to see how the new Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, emphasises it.
It was being given a lot of emphasis, in September, by the government, and we hope that this momentum can follow through with this programme, called Hydrogen South Africa. R15-million has already been given to the three universities and academic research institutions, and another R50-million has been given for them to service their business plans.
Modise: Eskom's huge investment programme has had its first investment spin-off, apparently the opening of a new R120-million factory to make power station components.
Creamer: The Eskom CEO, Jacob Maroga, has said that he's got a ready-built stimulus package and we're starting to see some of the fruits of it now with SPX and DB Thermal putting up this R120-million factory. That's the sort of thing we need; we've got enough shopping centres around the place, we need more factories.
Stimulating this development, in Nigel, for the factory to produce boiler pressure parts for the new Eskom power stations Medupi and Kusile is this whole Eskom programme. We hope that there will be more spin-offs. We know that the government has the competitive supply development programme, which is meant to ensure that when public sector money is spent, there is some spin-off in terms of jobs and activities. We hope that the new minister, Rob Davies, will actually push this a little bit further, because proper targets haven't really been set for the competitive supply development programme, and we know that the government, in three years, is going to spend something like R787-billion on infrastructure and the more we can get in local manufacture, and the more factory development, the better.
Beyond 2012 there's also set to be R1,3-trillion on the cards going through to 2025. So there's a lot of momentum to be gained and a lot of spin-offs to be gained, and we're hoping that this R120-million investment in Nigel will just be seen as fairly moderate in the days going forward, because SPX and DB Thermal making these pressure parts for the power station are part of a big contract that they won to make boilers. It's a R40-billion contract and Hitachi Power, which is involved, has already pledged at least a R1-billion investment promise into local content commitments and we hope that that momentum really builds up for job creation.
Modise: That's Martin Creamer, the publishing editor of Engineering News and Mining Weekly. He will be back At the Coalface at the same time next Friday.
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