Exclusive interview with Paul Fitzsimmons, new General Manager for the Power and Energy Sector at GIBB, exhibitor at African Utility Week.
Congratulations on your appointment as General Manager for the Power and Energy Sector at GIBB. Can you give us some background of the career path that led to this position?
I’ve always been in the energy industry. After university, I worked for one of the world’s leading nuclear organisations in the United Kingdom on both generation and nuclear fuel cycle services, for a number of years. I came to South Africa to establish a subsidiary joint venture (JV) engineering services company and then transferred to AngloGold Ashanti/Nufcor (who was the other partner) as Operations Director for its Uranium production business. I then took up a position in the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor project as the Head of the Operational Readiness project.
What are your plans in this new position?
The Power and Energy industry is a really exciting place to be at the moment and is likely to change beyond recognition in the next few years. My main objective is to develop and adapt the GIBB offering so that we can provide the full range of engineering and related services in that changed landscape. The industry has long-term horizons and we aim to develop innovative and creative ways of both sustaining the short-term, while developing the strategic capabilities to meet the demands of the long-term.
What are you most excited about currently in terms of GIBB products and solutions?
GIBB has such a breadth and depth of multi-disciplinary capabilities. We also have a responsiveness that enables us to establish project teams to meet just about any challenge. If you look at the range of both engineering and scientific skills together with the range of major projects that GIBB has been involved with over recent years, I believe that we are clearly world-class in terms of what we are able to offer.
What is on the calendar for GIBB for 2012?
GIBB will have a presence at the SAPOA Conference and Exhibition in Durban, the Africa Rail Conference and Exhibition in Sandton, the Hydro Power Africa Conference and Exhibition in Cape Town, the SA Housing Conference in Cape Town and the IMESA Conference and Exhibition in George – amongst others. GIBB also has various corporate social investment activities planned for 2012, which include the National Winter Warmer Blanket Donation, SAWomenEng, Job Shadow days and various other social development interventions.
What opportunities do you see in Africa?
The World Bank’s Africa Energy Unit (AFTEG) estimates that 25 of Africa’s 54 nations face an energy crisis. The provision of reliable and affordable electricity is clearly a major challenge for the continent. This is despite the fact that Africa is particularly well-endowed with potential energy resources. To me, these challenges add up to real opportunities – not just for businesses – but to change people’s lives forever.
What do you think makes GIBB competitive in this market?
I already mentioned our adaptability. Our other key strengths are our responsiveness and our innovativeness. We aim to give clients solutions that work when they need them to.
What do you think are the biggest challenges to the South African/African energy market?
The development of sufficient, affordable and accessible energy is critical in the pursuit of a sustainable developmental and growth trajectory for both South Africa and the continent as a whole. Finding creative ways to unlock the huge potential that undoubtedly exists will be critical to those goals. Additionally, the sheer size of the continent will need us to think about moving towards more distributed generation and supply solutions. I also think that we have a great deal to learn from international experience in structuring and restructuring electricity supply industries both in terms of what works and what doesn’t.
What surprises you about this industry?
I must say that while the future of the industry is extremely exciting, I am perhaps a little surprised by the apparent inertia that sometimes exists. It does seem as though people have been beating the same drum for some time now in terms of the impending energy crises. However against that, I have to say that recently in South Africa, with the development of the IRP and for example the programme of renewable bidding that is in progress, we now seem to have a viable path going forward.
Last year was your first time at African Utility Week, although you are a regular sponsor at Hydropower Africa. Why did you decide to return to African Utility Week?
At African Utility Week we receive good exposure and believe that we expose the GIBB brand and our expertise to the right audience. It also gives us the opportunity to showcase our multi-disciplinary approach.
What will be the main message that GIBB has for the African Utility Week delegate and visitor?
Africa Utility Week focuses on bringing the industry together, showcasing new products, best practices and innovations that increase productivity. GIBB is committed to finding new ways of minimising cost while increasing performance. It is vital that the power and energy sector in South Africa merge to find solutions to burning issues around demand side management, security of supply, renewable energy, increase of worldwide demand, generation technologies and regional investment.