DST to offer assistance packages to spur localisation in wind sector

29th September 2011 By: Jean McKenzie - Creamer Media Feature Reporter

At least 58% of wind turbine costs could be directed towards locally produced components, such as wind turbine towers, blades, transformers, main frames, nacelle housing, bolts and cables, a Department of Science and Technology (DST) official said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Windaba 2011 in Cape Town, director of technology localisation Vincent Zondi said that the DST planned to use technology assistance packages as part of the Technology Localisation Programme (TLP) to increase technology localisation in the wind energy sector.

The TLP is in line with government's Competitive Supplier Development Programme, which is aimed at increasing the competitiveness of the local supply base through a range of demand and supply-side measures.

The TLP has already been successfully piloted in the foundry industry with 26 foundries having received assistance through the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and Mintek, Zondi said, adding that it was well positioned to start providing support in the wind energy sector.

His comment comes as Danish wind turbine part maker LM Wind announced that it is considering building a South African plant in Port Elizabeth or Cape Town, and local company Isivunguvungu Wind Energy Converter is ramping up its efforts to complete its first 2.5 MW wind turbine by February 2012.

But Wikus van Niekerk, director for the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University, warned delegates that it was not only localisation of the technology that had to be addressed, but also the localisation of skills to service the sector.

“The new wind energy in South Africa will create thousands of new jobs but no one is training technical staff equipped to take these new opportunities. It is likely that the first wind farms may be operated and maintained with imported skilled labour,” cautioned Van Niekerk.

While the photovoltaic and concentrated solar power renewable energy sectors could draw on existing electrical engineering skills already in the country, the challenge with wind power was that there has been little experience in South Africa with the technology. He cautioned that it was a fundamentally more dangerous sector, which requires a skill set that no graduates currently possessed.

In response to this challenge, Van Niekerk along with a number of partners, is trying to launch the South African Wind Energy Centre (SAWEC), which will address the training needs of the sector.

Showing predicted numbers for the training requirements for the industry, Van Niekerk said that in 2011, 52 engineers, 102 technicians, just over 200 skilled and other workers would be needed. By 2030, it is predicted the country will have to train a staggering 972 engineers per year, approximately 1 300 technicians and almost 3 000 skilled and other workers to be able to keep up with the wind sector’s demands.

Currently, there are no approved curricular for the training of wind technicians and engineers, but he said that SAWEC was working on this with its consortium partners.

Van Niekerk lamented the government’s lack of response regarding the skills issue. “We’ve been talking to government about this for two–and-a-half years and we still have no commitment out of anybody . . . We really need to wake up, we need our government departments to sit around the table and take this seriously.”