Top authorities from the African energy sector gathered in Johannesburg for the Africa Energy Indaba where the current power crisis was on the top of the agenda.

With 500-million Africans without access to power and countries losing millions in opportunity and productivity losses, it is no surprise that universal access to electricity was a top concern for the delegates at the tenth Africa Energy Indaba (AEI).

The AEI was hosted at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, on February 20 and 21, with leaders of both the private and public sector in attendance.

The Indaba started off with an address from the former South African Minister of Energy David Mahlobo, who highlighted the key challenge for the energy sector – funding. His address was delivered by Elizabeth Marabwa, chief director of programmes and projects at the Department of Energy.

She explained that the African Union-approved Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), which focuses on the energy crisis, will need approximately US$ 42,2 billion (R492 billion) annually to achieve universal access by 2030.

However, not investing in energy could cost Africa even more. Amadou Hott, vice-president of power, energy, climate and green growth at the African Development Bank (AfDB), noted: “Every day that we delay implementing some of these independent power or regional projects, the cost of lost opportunities is unbelievable.”

Governments will not be able to provide the necessary funding to make electricity universally accessible; therefore, businesses, development financial institutions and other stakeholders need to be included. However, this will require projects and economies that are investor friendly and provide a good and quick return on investment.

Governments will need quick decision-making processes and politically stable governance. Louis van Pletsen, co-founder of Quantum Power, explained: “The investor community has funds to deploy in these projects if they can happen at an acceptable pace and offer an acceptable return.”

He used the example of the renewable energy programme in South Africa, which saw companies flock to invest. However, long, drawn-out decision-making processes led to many investors losing out on a return on their investment.

“If you call another programme today, the investors will not come in such abundance, as they now know that, in the past, the deployed development capital couldn’t be converted into permanent equity, because of the two-plus years of decision-making,” Van Pletsen said.

In contrast, when Senelec, the national electricity company of Senegal, decided to transform the power grid, various companies were signed and four power stations were built in 36 months. Hott adds: “We are appealing to everyone to fast track and shorten energy projects and to do everything today and not wait until tomorrow.”

Whether it was through exhibitions or panel discussions, the goal of the 2018 Africa Energy Indaba was to find sustainable solutions to Africa’s energy crisis.

During one of the captivating panel discussions at the Indaba, energy advisor to the president, Silas Zimu, noted that South Africa can expect big changes in its energy sector starting with the restructuring of state-owned enterprises.

He explained: “The same actions taken in February on governance at Eskom are going to come to the rest of the 700-odd state-owned enterprises, including ten energy-related enterprises.”

He added that the dream is for South Africa to become the energy hub for the entire sub-Saharan Africa. Although this is “technically” possible, Zimu also highlighted the importance of making electricity affordable. He used the example of many poorer South African communities that received power, but now have many residents in extreme debt as they were unable to pay for the electricity.

He said: “About 40 percent of the supplied electricity is used for boiling water. So, South Africa will be rolling out another 100 000 solar heaters before the end of the year.” He did not elaborate on the various structures in place to increase the energy production in South Africa.

While African energy leaders debated the best approach to making electricity available to everyone, delegates also had the opportunity to visit various exhibits that showcased innovations, ground-breaking technologies and various organisations – all aimed at improving energy access on the continent.

The exhibitors included BBF Safety, which showcased its personal protective equipment, and Dekra Industrial RSA.

Vanessa Ronald, senior brand manager at BBF Safety, noted: “BBF Safety Group operates from four factories across South Africa and exports products to 18 African countries, the Middle East, the Americas and Australasia.  The African Energy Indaba provided a platform for the company to meet, interact with and market our products to the individuals and companies that are actively involved in energy-related solutions for Africa.”

“The expo attracted companies from beyond South Africa, which gave us the opportunity to talk people from other African countries who we may not have spoken with before.

“Our main ambition at this event was to showcase our latest brand extension – Bova Safety Wear – and give a sneak-peak into the Sisi Safety Wear range that will be launching in April 2018,” she added.

The non-destructive inspector, Dekra Industrial RSA, was at the Indaba to create awareness about some of the services and solutions provided by the company. Johan Gerber, operations director at Dekra Industrial RSA, noted: “The Indaba presented another platform to show the energy industry the specific solutions that Dekra offers.”

The company has several different types of robotic equipment to assist with inspections to ensure safety and efficiency. For example, there is a robotics solution that does inspections in the high-temperature environments found in nuclear power plants. Another solution uses robotics to inspect a rotor without removing it from the turbine.

Gerber explained: “Taking the rotor out could mean a delay of four to five weeks. Using this technology will mean a delay of about three days. Dekra is at the Indaba to show the industry that it is not only a non-destructive inspector, but can also provide solutions by designing and building new technologies.”

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