Let’s start with some background on the Seda Atlantis Renewable Energy Business Incubator (SAREBI) and your role there?
Sarebi, The South African Renewable Energy Business Incubator was founded by the Small Business Development Agency (SEDA) Technology Programme (SEDA STP) in 2012 as the Seda Atlantis Renewable Energy Business Incubator to support the development of small businesses in the general renewable energy sector.
In 2015, the business recognised an opportunity to play a much bigger national role and have re-branded as the South African Renewable Energy Business Incubator. As the incoming General Manager in 2015, I have been tasked with the development of a new business strategy, business plan and a complete turnaround strategy for the business. This has led to identifying two key areas of small business development.
The first concerns SMEs that manufacture or produce products or components that feed into the sector. These are components for the solar PV and solar thermal sector, components that feed into the energy efficiency sector such as solar water heaters, LED lights, mobile PV power stations etc. The latter concerns the development of SMEs that provide services to the sector and this includes installation, maintenance, after-sale and warranty care.
What kind of projects in the energy and water sector are you already involved in?
Sarebi currently supports 24 incubatees, who manufacture or provide services to different sub-sectors of the renewable energy sector. These include manufacture of solar thermal equipment, solar water heaters, LED lights, mobile power stations, PV powered floating water filters, manufacture of components for wind tower internals, manufacture small batch bio-diesel converters and on the service side we support businesses that provide preventative maintenance and electrical installation and maintenance to the wind tower sector other bio fuel technologies auxiliary services such as import / export with a focus on clean energy technology.
What kind of innovation is necessary for our energy sector today in your view?
Innovation is often associated with development of new hardware and equipment technology. Developing new innovation in hardware is extremely expensive. The Johanna Thin film solar is a good example of this. Innovative payment and financing models abound the world over, there is very little space for new innovation here.
In my view the key question is why so few South Africans adopt simple technologies like domestic solar water heating to start with? Why do so many rural communities shun clean off grid power solutions? Perhaps the single biggest innovation required is to find ways for the consumer market to actually adopt and desire simple proven technologies.
Another area of innovation that is desperately required is the adoption / integration of smaller embedded generation by institutional and legislative bodies, but that requires innovation in making the books balance and moving form a dependence of electricity sales to reflective cost recovery for other services.
What will be your message at African Utility Week’s Innovation Hub?
Renewable and clean energy is not rocket science, but it’s not the silver bullet either! There are horses for courses and different technologies are better suited to different applications. Well-heeled consumers cannot simply go off grid, we all need the grid and need to make a contribution to make it work, but this requires a collective large scale adoption of RE both from consumers and legislators.
What are you most looking forward to at the Innovation Hub?
To get a sense of the other views of technology, innovation and the market opportunities.