Solutions and integration provider Jasco says electrification challenges await South Africa, especially with regard to the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP), as there is a lack of competence among local engineers and artisans, largely owing to the fact that this is a new industry.
Jasco Group CEO Pete Da Silva suggests that, if required, expatriates can be brought back on short-term contracts to transfer skills to local professionals, as was done during the country’s telecommunications boom in the 1990s and 2000s.
“The electrification and distribution industry in Africa should grow significantly in the next 20 years as the telecommunications industry did in the last 20 years. When we started the tele- communications revolution we also did not have all the pre- requisite skills, but we gained them quickly,” he says.
On November 5, 2012, the Department of Energy signed the power purchase, implementation and direct agreements with the first group of 28 bidders whose projects advanced after the first-bid window of the REIPPP. These projects will supply 1 415 MW of wind and solar capacity to the grid. This represents an investment value of about R47-billion.
The financial closure deadline for the 19 projects selected in the second bid window, representing 1 043.9 MW of capacity and an investment value of about R28-billion, is scheduled for August.
As South Africa readies itself for the introduction of new, cleaner energy, Da Silva says independent power producers (IPPs) will jostle for position, giving rise to new services, increased competition and choice.
“However, the country’s skills gap must be addressed to assist these new energy operators in supplying, installing and maintaining their infrastructure to ensure efficient distribution of renewable-energy generated power.
“IPPs and new power operators need to ensure that these new power sources are sustainable, distribution networks are adequate, and balance of plant,” he says, adding that the creation of sustainable local jobs and the transfer of skills to communities surrounding the project sites are important aspects of the REIPPP
. Da Silva claims that most developers are fixated on securing wind turbines or photovoltaic (PV) solar panels when developing large-scale renewable-energy projects and forget about the smaller aspects of completing a viable project.
“This is an oversimplification – much more work is involved when building renewable-energy projects and associated infrastructure.
Aside from supplying the wind turbines and PV panels, all other services, such as civil engineering, can and should be undertaken by South Africans for South Africans from the start of the forthcoming renewable-energy projects,” he states.
Da Silva notes that projects will often be constructed in remote, arid areas. This means civil engineering, in the form of access roads, will be important when ensuring that the site is accessible by contractors and employees.
These civil works could be a huge challenge when building new energy structures, specifically wind farms, he says.
“The concrete bases for wind farms need to support structures of up to 100 m high. However, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. These installations have been undertaken many times worldwide and, hopefully, we can learn from this.
“Preparation and planning is 90% of the hard work when it comes to constructing new power infrastructure. Thanks to international projects in Europe, we have seen what can go wrong, owing to a lack of planning and skills, poor project management and changing tariffs by government,” he says.
“Once you have set up the infrastructure, the power being generated needs to be distributed through power cables. Since our investment in electric cable manufacturer M-Tec (Malesela Taihan Electric Cable), we are able to assist IPPs in feeding their power into substations and transformers,” he says.
Going forward, Da Silva sees slow but positive growth for the electrification and distribution industry in South Africa.
“We are making slow, but steady, progress with renewable-energy and other sustainable energy practices. As we acquire more of the necessary skills, this process will continue and so will the growth of the industry,” he says.
“Coal and nuclear power stations will be around for a long time to come, but renewable energy still has an important role to play during peak electricity periods and fit-for-purpose usage.
“If we can successfully implement cleaner energy in Africa, it will be a triumph and we will be able to multiply the success all over the continent,” Da Silva concludes.Jasco is able to support the supply of wind turbines and solar PV panels and provide its clients with a full power solution, as the company also offers location security services, information communications technology services, power distribution lines and planning services.