HomeFeatures/AnalysisExclusive interview with Rick St John

Exclusive interview with Rick St John

St John is the Regional Director, Lucy Electric South Africa – platinum sponsors at this year’s African Utility Week.

Can we start with a breakdown of the kind of work that Lucy Electric does in the power and utilities sector across the continent?
Lucy Electric are experts in secondary distribution solutions, enabling the safe and efficient distribution of electricity to homes and businesses across Africa. Our experienced engineers work at the forefront of the design and implementation of automation projects, from concept to deployment, and we use our engineering excellence to design and manufacture best-in-class automated switchgear products and services.

We provide a complete range of switching and protection solutions for both underground and overhead line networks. Our range of medium voltage switchgear includes SF6 gas and oil insulated ring main units (transformer or ground mounted); pole or structure mounted air break disconnectors; and air or gas load break switches.

Our business in the region is almost exclusively long term supply contracts, and we expect to see this continuing in the foreseeable future. We work closely with our customers to provide tailored solutions which continue to add value, and make it easier for them to manage their distribution network reliably, economically and sustainably.

Any specific projects that you are particularly excited about that you can share? What were the highlights from 2016?
2016 was a great year for Lucy Electric. We continued to experience organic growth across Africa and we designed and managed the implementation of an increasing number of secondary distribution network automation projects in the region.

An exciting development for us in 2017 is the launch of our first 36kV ring main unit (RMU), Aegis36. We developed this product to meet the growing demand for a quality switchgear solution across 36kV networks and support an increasing number of renewable power connections.

The Aegis36 builds on the successful Aegis Plus RMU, recently launched to meet the needs of secondary distribution networks up to 24kV. The new Aegis36 ensures customers in Africa and throughout the world are able to select Lucy Electric ring main products across the full secondary distribution voltage range and to automate their networks whether overhead or underground.

In your view, what are the main challenges to the energy sector in Africa?
Without a doubt the biggest challenges facing the energy sector across Africa is reliable access to electricity and the shortfall in energy generation.

In sub-Saharan Africa for example, the electrification rate is relatively low for the majority of countries. Only around 24% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity (versus 40% in other low income countries) and excluding South Africa, the entire installed generation capacity of Sub-Saharan Africa is only 28 Gigawatts, equivalent to that of Argentina.

We expect the market to develop strongly in the future as the infrastructure is extended and upgraded to meet growing demand across the region. However, for investment strategies to be successful, companies need to have a clear understanding of their challenges going forward. Planning, developing and executing major investment projects, particularly those using the latest technology, presents utilities with as many challenges as it does opportunities.

For successful project delivery, companies need a clear view of future needs and a project partner they can trust to deliver projects from end to end, reliably, economically and sustainably. This is where partnering with an organisation such as Lucy Electric can help. Our experts work at the cutting-edge of distribution projects and can help organisations scope and specify future-proofed solutions which are tailored to their needs.

From retrofitting existing installations to network expansion or completely new installations, we can offer guidance in developing the scope of the projects, setting objectives, and helping to determine the course of action best suited to the customers’ requirements, timescales and budget.

Our approach delivers projects as efficiently and as effectively as possible, using a structured project control methodology to develop a solution that adds value, delivers a high quality result and is flexible enough to meet future challenges.

What is your vision for this industry?
Renewables provide a quicker and easier way of bringing mass electrification to rural Africa and are set to play a major part in future expansion for most countries in the decades to come. Alongside this, strengthening of urban networks as more and more of the populace gravitate to cities, must work in parallel with very ambitious electrification programmes in all countries in Africa.

These new initiatives mark a very exciting time for the electricity sector across Africa and we expect to see major developments in infrastructure over the next decade or so. At Lucy Electric we hope to play a key part in helping to make this a reality.

We are continually developing our product range to meet the changing needs of the marketplace and our latest generation secondary distribution solutions, coupled with the in-depth expertise of our engineers, can help our customers across Africa manage and develop their network infrastructure reliably, economically and sustainably.

Lucy Electric is a platinum sponsor at African Utility Week this year – you are a valued, longstanding partner, why do you partner with us? 
African Utility Week is a key conference which evolved over the years from an electrical measurement, generation, and transmission conference to a conference now dealing in energy generation, transmission, distribution and measurement, showcasing the latest technologies available to the African market. With the addition of renewables some two years back, AUW is now the best energy conference on the African Continent, giving exhibitors and delegates alike excellent value.

Last year we had great engagement with new and existing customers and identified more opportunities where we can truly add value across distribution networks in Africa.

Our Platinum sponsorship includes a conference presentation on how project management brings added value when investing in automation projects, and a technical workshop presenting our new 36kV ring main unit. We are also sponsoring the Gala Dinner and I am looking forward to personally presenting the Utility of the Year Award during the evening.

What will be your message at the event?
We are looking forward to demonstrating our expertise in secondary distribution networks with a particular focus on our automation product range. This has been designed to deliver enhanced network intelligence for our customers, the highest levels of operational efficiency and facilitate easy flexible upgrades to meet our customers’ changing needs.

Our experienced engineers will be on hand to provide information for both underground and overhead networks about our retrofit solutions, latest generation automation-ready ring main units and remote terminal units as well as our SCADA, distribution management and LV monitoring systems.

We will be launching our first 36kV ring main unit – the Aegis36 at the event, which provides a quality solution for 36kV networks and is ideally suited to the growing renewables market.

We will also be displaying our demonstration van which we use with customers throughout Southern Africa for mobile demonstrations and to train operators on site. This has been met with great enthusiasm from our customers and has been so successful that we are contemplating a van based in Nairobi at Lucy Electric’s East Africa office.

Anything else you would like to add?
Many countries in Africa offer good opportunities for business growth and a need for our products and services, yet the sheer size of the continent presents logistical challenges in terms of distribution into different markets.

As we have experienced in other markets, this can be made easier through local representation; we have successfully worked with local partners in many markets around the world and we are currently looking at expanding our presence in Africa.

Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.