HomeFeatures/AnalysisExclusive interview with Rick St John, Regional Director, Lucy Electric South Africa

Exclusive interview with Rick St John, Regional Director, Lucy Electric South Africa

Rick St John, Regional Director, Lucy Electric South Africa

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 design and implementation for automation projects, from concept to deployment, and we use our engineering excellence to design and manufacture bespoke and best in class 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 network distribution, reliably, economically and sustainably.

Any specific projects that you are particularly excited about that you can share? What were the highlights from 2015?
2015 was a great year for Lucy Electric. We continued to experience organic growth across Africa and we designed and implemented an increasing number of secondary distribution network automation projects in the region.

An exciting development for us this year is the extension of our solutions into low voltage monitoring via the GridKey range. A world leading, low voltage (LV) continuous monitoring system, GridKey measures, communicates and stores real-time data and through a suite of analysis tools translates this into actionable information. Using the information, distribution network operators are able to plan to maximise their assets, diagnose and solve problems more quickly, and reduce capital and operational costs.

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 are 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, which will help them to plan the most effective investment strategies for today’s and tomorrow’s needs.

This can be a challenge for companies, with each market across Africa facing different issues which can vary depending on a number of factors, such as environmental and economic influences.

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 specifically tailored to their needs.

What is your vision for this industry?
Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, African Development Bank President stated in January this year at the World Economic Forum that “Africa is tired of being in the dark. Lack of electricity puts a break on Africa’s economic growth and development.”

Dr Adesina was speaking at the launch the Bank’s New Deal on Energy for Africa, which aligns with the Power Africa Roadmap. The Roadmap announced at the beginning of the year, lays out a clear path to achieving Power Africa’s ambitious vision of bringing electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses by 2030.

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.

It grows in stature each year and is 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 expanded Platinum sponsorship includes a number of presentations and round table discussions at the event this year, full details of which will be announced shortly. 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 which 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 about our retrofit solutions, latest generation, automation-ready ring main units, remote terminal units, SCADA, distribution management and LV monitoring systems, for both underground and overhead networks.

The products on show will include our new generation of Gemini 3 RTUs; automation ready Aegis Plus and Sabre RMUs; and our Rapier GX load-break switch and Rapier SAX air brake disconnector.

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.

Ashley Theron
Ashley Theron-Ord is based in Cape Town, South Africa at Clarion Events-Africa. She is the Senior Content Producer across media brands including ESI Africa, Smart Energy International, Power Engineering International and Mining Review Africa.