Exclusive interview with Daniel Swanepoel, lead facilitator of the Spintelligent Power & Utilities Management School.
1. Let’s start by introducing yourself, tell us something about your background in the power and utilities sector?
I started my career in Corporate Banking from where I moved into strategy planning which became a natural entry point into the world of renewable energy and related projects. During my time in banking the word renewable became quite known in the South African environment and we started to look at ways to finance the ‘new’ power transactions. Initially we only focused on the three main areas of renewable which are solar, wind and hydro. Today we have a variety of other options available as well to include biomass, waste to energy, and also other ‘clever technologies’ where we focus on at the present moment.
We learned from the start in our planning for international companies that wished to enter the African market place that public infrastructure development (and in this a core focus on electricity) will become key topics within the African context for at least another few decades.
Whenever we look at Africa as a developing continent we all have the strategic outlook that Africa needs to learn how to take care of itself. In this we mean that Africa needs to learn to also process its own minerals and other resources into secondary and sometimes even tertiary production.
Having said this, the focus then shifts immediately towards Infrastructure development and power and other related utilities become the focus points.
I assist with strategic planning for an Austrian company that works within the air pollution and emissions control sector. We learned quite early in our journey into Africa that we should look at how to combat the electricity issue since any new technology that we will bring on board will have a dependency on electricity. In this instance we started to look at new technology development where we can achieve co-generation status on some projects. Today this is seen as ‘new technologies’ when we analyse the renewable energy space.
Presently I am the advisor to a financing company in Switzerland in respect of energy related projects in Africa as well as the advisor to an Austrian company that is in the process of developing new technologies that will both act as an emissions control agent as well as a renewable energy project.
I have also developed different workshops and course materials for international companies that focus specifically on renewable energy and related infrastructure development.
2. Any particular highlights of projects you were involved in? What’s the most fun you have had in this sector?
Presently for me the highlight is to be part of a project where we look at what we call ‘new technologies’ within the renewable energy space. We determined early on that emissions control in underground mines can be quite challenging for the mining houses. This is a requirement to ensure the health and safety of the workforce underground. At the same time it is also a very costly exercise and generally dependent on constant electricity supply.
Within the SA reality this can indeed present a problem with load shedding as such. We started with research whereby we remove the emissions that are harmful and at the same time we do a co-generation project. This means we effectively clean the emissions sufficiently to comply with legislation and at the same time provide electricity back to the mining company that can power its ventilation system. Once the ventilation system is ‘off-grid’ so to speak we achieve optimum results as the ventilation system then becomes self-sufficient and the risk of future downtime due to electricity issues become negligible.
The power and infrastructure space certainly presents very interesting cases to us and at the same time it forces us to look for different solutions or combinations of different technologies in order to achieve success.
What started initially as a discussion around solar, wind and hydro has today become such an integrated world for development. As we become more aware of the damage to the environment and the impact of our conduct on the planet we are also forced to look at alternative solutions to combat the infrastructure development process.
The one advantage of being part of the African Development process is that we can explore with different and new technologies and very often become leaders in the respective fields.
3. What challenges do you think exist in this sector with regards to skills?
In Africa we generally lack high level technical expertise. This is where Europe has certainly achieved much bigger successes in the past few decades. Europe produces highly skilled engineers constantly. This is due to the fact that basic education is already delivered at a high level.
We need our tertiary education institutions to certainly focus more on technical skills development and with specific focus on the Power and Utility sectors. This is our future. And this is a reality for the entire Sub Saharan Africa. On this point The Utility sector is generally linked to Governments and this often relates to political appointments being made whereas people with strategic outlook and the necessary skill set will be overlooked. In the developed world they have learned already that within the Utility sector we have to allow public private partnerships in order to be successful. It is the combination that works.
At the same time we also lack the skills of presenting a good business case when it comes to putting together a business plan and related documentation for finance. This is more a strategic focus and companies often fail to achieve success in this space.
4. How will the Power and Utilities Management School at African Utility Week address these?
At the Power and Utilities Management School we will provide our delegates with a complete overview of the Power and Utilities Development Sector.
We will start with an overview of generation and distribution looking at the different challenges and then discuss how to find solutions. We will also look at the regulatory environment and reform within the sector with focus on Africa. This will then move into the development of a business case that is feasible both from a funding perspective and also profitability. We will complete the workshop by discussing power projects and contracts and why the effective management of these underlying pillars is so important to ensure success.
5. What can prospective attendees most look forward to at the school?
We have worked hard to put together a programme that will speak to both junior and middle management delegates. Our objective is to present to our delegates the basic framework to understand how a power management project is put together.
At the same time we want to provide our delegates with a complete overview of the sector at the present moment and give them an opportunity to discuss with others.
In short we would like the power management school to be a brainstorming session where we look at strategy planning, government liaison, project planning, project management and then conclude with successful financial management of project.
6. Anything you would like to add?
With Africa now being at the front door of development we have to realise that planned and effective infrastructure development will become the key drivers of any future development.
Africa is in the fortunate position to be highly resourceful both from a natural resources perspective as well as human capital development potential. Our main challenge is often accountability which is where governments will have to play a key role.
The future for Africa in power and utility sector lies within the development of key relationships between governments and the private sector. In South Africa we use the word ‘ubuntu’ which one can translate into “together we can achieve more”.
The future lies within a mixture of different energy sources. We cannot rely on a single source such as coal any longer. Apart from it not being sustainable, it is damaging to the environment and also human and other life on the planet.
Africa has an abundance of natural resources and with proper strategic planning we can become fully self-sufficient within the power sector by relying mostly on our environmentally friendly resources.
Success and sustainability within the power sector will demand a different way of thinking and strategic planning. It will also demand a different skills set from us. We need to empower ourselves and others to build a better future.