The South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (Saretec), which provides training for wind turbine service technicians and which has recently expanded into training solar photovoltaic (PV) installers, has been officially launched in Cape Town.
The sophisticated and state-of-the-art training centre is based at the Bellville campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT).
Saretec CPUT director Naim Rassool said at the launch event on Tuesday that the centre was the result of a great partnership between several players, with the building delivered "way beyond scope and well below budget".
With the support of the German government, Rassool and his team werec able to lobby key decision-makers in original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to support the centre. The government had also invested significantly in the centre.
“For this training centre to be sustainable, we need OEMs as our primary customers, as they employ wind technicians in South Africa,” said Rassool. Wind turbine manufacturer Nordex also donated a wind turbine, which is based at the centre for students to work on.
The Saretec project was initiated in response to the demand for skilled operations and maintenance staff in the renewable energy industry following the release of South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010. Since then, Saretec has trained a number of wind turbine service technicians.
Training, however, had to stop for a full year when the signing of power purchase agreements for renewable energy projects was delayed, but is now fully up and running again.
“With 12 new wind projects coming on line in 2020 we’ve started training wind turbine technicians again. These technicians will complete five months of formal training in a couple of weeks time. They’ll be deployed on wind farms for practical training before qualifying as wind technicians,” explained Rassool, while introducing the group of young people to the guests gathered for the launch.
“They’ll be able to work on any turbine in the world. They’ll be an asset to not only South Africa but the world. There’s a shortage globally of wind turbine technicians. This is the future of skills we need to save our environment from global warming.”
Rassool said a few strategic initiatives had been planned for the centre. Technical training would be taken directly to wind and solar farms. Basic training would be introduced to young people in communities close to solar farms. Saretec was also partnering with OEMs in East Africa to train wind turbine technicians in the emerging African market. It was also working on proposals to reskill South African coal mine workers.
CPUT Vice Chancellor Dr Chris Nhlapo, meanwhile, commented that the university was an ideal base for the centre, particularly with the great scope for renewable energy in South Africa.
“The Western Cape is home to four universities with well established research and innovation in renewable energy. Training, research and development and business incubation will lead to a more innovative sector,” he said at the launch.
Volker Oel, head of cooperation for the German Embassy in South Africa, said wind energy decision-makers had travelled to Germany on several study tours to learn more about the needs and curricula for the centre.
“Skilled technicians to operate power plants will be crucial. We are extremely confident about the centre,” said Oel, who also called for policy certainty in the renewables space.
Nordex Energy South Africa MD Anne Henschel said the next step was to develop the manufacturing side of the wind energy industry and the supply chain in South Africa, so that more local jobs could be created.
South African Wind Energy Association CEO Brenda Martin was very upbeat about 8 100 MW of further wind allocation in the draft IRP 2018, but called for the smoothing of the procurement allocation over the years 2022 to 2024, when there is a marked gap.
Opportunities for solar PV training also abound. South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) chairperson David Chown said the industry had grown from a "pipe dream" to a huge industry, with 145 MW of solar PV panels installed on rooftops across South Africa, from shopping malls and schools to clinics and homes.
SAPVIA has worked with Saretec over the last two years to develop a curriculum and a two-year qualification to qualify as a PV technician.
Since the establishment of SAPVIA, it has registered 90 installation companies and capacitated 24 training institutions, said Chown. He said countries like Mauritius, India, Pakistan and Morocco had expressed interest in establishing similar training programmes.
Western Cape Premier Helen Zille said the renewable energy opportunity had sprung from the first phase of load-shedding in 2006. “We have turned that crisis into an opportunity.”
Zille said the Western Cape aimed to be the green hub of the southern hemisphere, with the help of centres such as Saretec.
Department of Higher Education and Training director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde said renewable energy was essential in the light of "signs all around us" of climate change, rising sea levels, water scarcity and runaway fires.
He said it was also a great opportunity for Saretec to expand into training in other forms of renewable energy, such as bio-energy.
Qonde said more than 400 trainees had been on short courses on wind, solar and energy efficiency, while 47 South Africans had trained as wind turbine technicians. Saretec has trained a further 21 South Africans in Germany.