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Interview with Dieter Sommer, SARETEC

“SARETEC is a flagship renewable energy project in South Africa and its success is vital to the renewable energy industry. Strong industry support is needed.”

Dieter SommerExclusive interview with Dieter Sommer, Senior Advisor, South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC), Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Bellville.  Dieter is a speaker in the wind track during Clean Power Africa.  SARETEC is also facilitating free technical workshops on the expo floor focusing on helping companies introduce renewable energy resources.

Let’s start with your position at SARETEC as senior training manager, what does your work entail?
I have been living in South Africa since October 2012 and my job is to develop the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC) Project at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) Bellville campus. I have a small but very efficient team assisting me on this project and things are going well.

SARETEC is to be a national training centre for the renewable energy industry. The idea of SARETEC was first discussed in early 2008 when it was recognized that the development of the renewable energy industry in South Africa must go hand in hand with the establishment of a training system. It was decided to model the training structure according to the proven system of continuing education in Germany.

We (the team) together with the architects gave the building design some thought and aimed to develop an efficient building that is a living laboratory for students. The construction phase of the building has begun and we will offer our full range of training courses at the beginning of 2015.

The training program aims to deliver quality training according to the standards required by industry. The development of the training courses is also one of my tasks in the project and the QCTO process is underway.

The SARETEC project makes an important contribution to the permanent establishment of renewable energy in South Africa and assists in the development of skilled technicians for the industry.

How willing are companies to use renewable energy options?
In my opinion they are willing if the price is right. Energy is a very competitive market and as long as renewable energy remains competitive companies should use this option.

I hope that companies would now focus more on the importance of well-trained service staff as this a critical link in the chain. We have partners from industry that have sent employees, via SARETEC, on training in Germany. In May 2015, we will have trained 21 certified South Africans (wind energy service technicians). By the way, there were two women among the participants. Companies are willing to embrace renewable energy and train staff but as with any new offer it needs time to establish itself.

What are the main challenges in the work of SARETEC?
For one, SARETEC must follow a good teaching and learning concept. We have put a lot of thought into implementing integrative learning concepts and the emerging building and required equipment reflect those thoughts. We are fortunate that some companies have recognized this and support us accordingly, but more support is needed. The coordination of the curriculum with industry requirements is very important and will ensure the success of the project.

Our other challenge is to convince the industry of this importance and the need for well-trained service staff to protect their long term investment.

Any exciting projects that the Centre is involved in?  Any success stories you can share?
I think an important project that we are involved in is the development of curriculums for Service Technicians. We are part of merSETA/EWSETA working groups that are responsible for submission to the QCTO process and accreditation by SAQA. The curriculums are expected to be released in June 2014 and will be available to all institutions in South Africa.

Despite having no local training facilities SARETEC and partners have been able to train and certify 21 wind turbine service technicians to date. We have also presented introductory wind energy courses to over 200 students at local institutions.

What is your vision for this sector?
I hope that the renewable energy industry will develop quickly and establish local manufacturing, as this will benefit the economy, address energy need in a sustainable manner and mitigate climate change.  SARETEC wants to assist companies in this sector from the beginning by supplying trained and certified staff. We also would like to take on the task of generating interest in the private sector to embrace energy efficiency and renewable energy.

What surprises you about this sector?
Oh, nothing really has surprised me here in South Africa. I have worked in the same sector in Germany and China and I see many similarities. This is probably because we are dealing with a global industry.

You are addressing the wind power track at Clean Power Africa, what will be your message?
Based on my experience I would like to make the importance of well-trained service technicians clear. They are key to the performance and operation of systems and directly influence the profits of the operator.

These professional skills are not limited to current operation only, but allow reliable detection of incipient faults, which require detailed understanding of the whole system. It cannot be expected that semi-skilled workers will fulfil this need.

SARETEC is facilitating two days of free, renewable energy workshops, what can workshop visitors look forward to?
With these workshops we want to emphasize the technical and practical aspects. We will have representatives from industry and experts in specific fields as speakers. These speakers will have the opportunity to speak about current developments, special application tools and specialised topics such as damage detection and repair.

This will allow operators, investors, engineers and technicians to discuss issues with the experts in a smaller more direct forum.

Anything you would like to add?
SARETEC is a flagship RE project in South Africa and its success is vital to the RE industry. Strong industry support is needed.