Vuyolwethu (Vuyo) Matiwane, Grid Manager at BTE Renewables, joined the renewable energy sector in 2013 and has built up an impressive portfolio of experience across no less than fifteen renewable energy independent power producers (IPPs) over the last seven years.
Her job has meant working across three provinces that make up the lion share of the green power map, namely Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape, in both solar and wind technologies. She is the Renewable Power Plant representative in the South African Grid Code Advisory Committee, which reviews all proposals for amendment of, derogations to or exemptions from the South African Grid Code.
Most recently, Vuyo has been part of the team to successfully bring Golden Valley Wind Energy Facility, BTE Renewables’ fourth IPP, online. She has also recently been accepted into GWEC’s mentorship programme, “Energising Women to Advance the Energy Transition”, which will be the beginning of her mentorship journey.
ESI Africa spoke with Vuyo Matiwane on working in the renewable energy space and what is in stall for the future.
Vuyo, you entered the renewable energy sector in 2013, when the industry was very new. What made you choose the sector and please outline the highlights of your career?
Renewable energy chose me. I was lucky enough to get a bursary with Eskom in my second year of study, completed in-service training and graduated in early 2013. I was still not sure what my next step was and what department I saw myself working within Eskom when an opportunity presented itself at Eskom Brackenfell, in the Western Cape.
The role was in Project Execution for the execution and management of a few of the first IPP projects in the Western and North Cape Operating Unit. I had no experience and had only spent a month in Project Execution as part of my in-service training rotation, but I was eager to learn and excited to be a part of something new.
Almost five REIPPPP bids later, I’m still excited about the future – the learning never stops.
Each time I successfully complete and connect a project to the grid, it is a highlight. I feel part of something big, making an impact and contributing towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for world transformation. [UN’s SGD7 for world transformation].
That must be an incredibly powerful feeling but what are the biggest challenges in your job, when bringing a utility power plant to commercial operations?
Each project is unique. However, lessons learnt from the previous projects are always very useful in the execution of the next – but the pressure always builds up towards the end of the project. Testing and commissioning can be a challenging time as it is the most critical part of the project.
Our whole team focuses on the final goal, it’s what stands between the seller and that first invoice to the buyer, so you can imagine the amount of pressure that comes with that!
What has the impact of COVID-19 been on you and your team and how do you keep everyone motivated?
Our CEO played a huge part in keeping everyone motivated through a series of information and Stretch Sessions via Zoom. I remember the one time we did the #BlindingLightsChallenge, where everyone took part from the comfort of their homes with families up to the site teams across all our projects in SA and Kenya.
We also had sessions on Mental Health and COVID-19 as part of our Employee Wellness Programme organiSed by our HR services team. This really helped our team deal with life under lockdown and kept us all connected and gave us a sense of community.
Over 50% of BTE Renewables’ employees are women. This is significant, considering that South Africa’s renewable energy industry continues to strive for better gender diversity, having recognised that the sector is still lagging in sufficient gender diversity. What is your view on this?
It feels good to be part of an organisation that’s taking action towards achieving gender diversity. I think more companies are committing to bridging the gender gap and creating a more inclusive workforce. There is, however, still a lot to be done, the industry is still very male-dominated, and we still have more men than women in leadership and decision-making roles. We, therefore, need men as allies to administer and effect change towards a more diverse workforce.
What message would you like to share with young women who are considering a role in the renewable energy sector?
My days of being the only female in the room must come to an end – and I’d love more women to join this exciting industry.
The industry is actively advocating for women in renewable energy, and I happen to work for one of the organisations that is actively taking action towards gender diversity. We need more women in engineering. It’s only a man’s world if we give it to them.
With that being said, it comes with a lot of hard work and determination. It is important to stay true to yourself and have a teachable spirit, the learning never stops. Get rid of all internal limiting barriers, it all starts with believing in and never limiting yourself. I also feel it’s very important to have a mentor from the early stages of your career; network more and learn with other women who have led careers in the industry; get insight and advice on how they got where they are. I wish I had that support early in my career, but it’s never too late to start at whatever stage you find yourself in.
Mentoring plays an important role for women who wish to advance their careers. Do you (did you) have a mentor, and have you considered being a mentee?
I’ve never had a mentor, mainly due to the lack of such opportunities at the time. I’ve recently come across a number of mentorship programs designed to accelerate the careers of women in renewable energy, like the Global Wind Energy Council’s ‘Women in Wind Global Leadership Programme’.
I was recently accepted to the mentorship programme, “Energizing Women to Advance the Energy Transition” which will be the beginning of my mentorship journey!
ESI Africa is celebrating 25 years in the market and has witnessed challenges and successes. In your opinion, what were the most significant milestones in the evolution of Africa’s energy sector over the last 25 years? What lies ahead for Africa in the next 25 years?
One of the most significant milestones has been the transition to renewable energy. Africa has sufficient fossil resources but if it continues relying on them, it will not allow a transition to a low-carbon power supply system. With a population that is rapidly increasing, a growing electricity demand coupled with net-zero carbon emission targets, we can expect to see a lot more renewable energy investment in Africa between now and 2050.
Thank you for spending time with us today Vuyo.