Connie Ochola

Each year, the US-based Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI)’s Technology Transfer Awards recognise industry leaders and innovators at the vanguard of adopting new technology and spearheading the application of research findings. ESI Africa spoke with the 2017 award winner from Eskom, Eng. Sanjian Malapermal

Congratulations to you and to Eskom on picking up the 2017 EPRI Technology Transfer Award. This must have undergone a demanding process – please elaborate on this award-winning project.

The system-wide assessment of distribution energy resources (DER) is a project within EPRI’s integration of DER programme that Eskom subscribes to. EPRI developed the Distribution Resource Integration and Value Estimation (DRIVE) tool, which enables distribution engineers to assess the grid with a primary focus of integrating and evaluating new distributed energy resources.

Multiple utilities from North America, Canada, Europe, Taiwan, Mexico and South Africa’s Eskom are participating in DRIVE-related projects. The aim of the Eskom project is to develop an interactive platform that integrates with the vendor power system software (DIgSILENT PowerFactory). This allows utility planners to analyse and visualise the extent to which DER can be hosted, without creating any power quality and reliability issues on networks. DRIVE interfaces with the detailed feeder models that Eskom maintains, and calculates the hosting capacity of each feeder using efficient methodologies and techniques.

Notwithstanding initiation delays and challenges of mobilising resources at a national level, including attending webinars separated by a 6-hour time difference. I led a team of Eskom engineers to provide 123 Eskom network feeder models so that EPRI could customise an interface between the existing Eskom distribution system software tools (DIgSILENT PowerFactory) with EPRI’s DRIVE-tool.

A selective process was used to acquire the DIgSILENT PowerFactory files, which intrinsically had a range of characteristics. This included voltage limited networks,  networks with passive voltage control, reactive power compensated networks, networks that included large resistance to reactance  (R/X) ratios, highly loaded networks, lightly loaded networks, networks with vast geographic extents, networks ranging in length and networks that posed a possible reverse voltage rise that served as a proxy for high penetration and concentration of DER.

The DIgSILENT PowerFactory models provided, formed the basis for interpreting information between the DRIVE tool and a proprietary software package not widely used in the US. This allowed EPRI to extend their industry reach and support Eskom in understanding the hosting capacity and capability of DER. With the release of the DRIVE tool, Eskom engineers will be able to perform a system wide assessment on the distribution network.

The Eskom team’s effort was recognised by EPRI in a Technology Transfer Award in February 2017.

I salute the Eskom colleagues that were involved in this project – Preshaan Jaglal, Planning Centre of Excellence (CoE); Eugene Van Heerden (KZN OU); Francois Verwey (MP OU); Rofhiwa Musehane (NW OU ); Rosalie Cornelissen (NC OU); Gerrit Viljoen (FS OU); Tladi Letsoara (L OU); Jonathan Nye (WC OU).

The impact of DER is certainly disrupting the industry and this research will assist utilities to keep pace with global industry challenges.  How does it feel to receive the EPRI recognition?

I am honoured to be recognised by a leading think-tank of great minds in the global industry of electric power research by EPRI. I was humbled by Mr Matshela Koko, acting Group Chief Executive, for contacting me directly to thank the team for our contribution – it is this type of personal touch that inspires.

How much is South Africa contributing to revolutionising the energy industry and how does this compare against global counterparts?

I believe much is being spoken about and more needs to be done to implement our vision of the “Future-Grid”.  We have an abundance of great minds that if wielded correctly, can harness the expansion of the grid to drive key economic growth factors. The evolution of the internet has colonised the global village allowing us to learn-from and teach our global counterparts. We have a duty to the sustainability of the planet while ensuring the longevity of mankind. We need to start thinking in terms of collaboration and not comparisons.

In the research what were the key points that stood out for you?

EPRI brings together leading industry experts across multiple utilities in the United States and globally to collaborate on utility specific needs. In addition to the structured research program with defined benefits to industry partners, the clinical method of executing, programme managing and recognising industry partners for their support and contribution are hallmarks of effective research.

The research into DRIVE’s hosting capacity methodology allows integration with multiple proprietary power system simulation software platforms. This allows for utility engineers to use their skills and competence in known software packages and still harness the algorithms of EPRIs intellectual property.

What is the importance of streamlined hosting capacity, which has earned you this award, to the utility sector?

Embedded generation (DER) challenges utility planning and operational philosophies the conventional power flow from source (generator) to sink (load). Distribution utility engineers need to explore techniques beyond their classical approaches to ensure that penetration and saturation levels of distributed resource maintain the integrity of the network.

The DRIVE hosting capacity tool will inform the assessment of penetration and saturation levels of DER through analysis based on the individual network characteristics. Scalability of power systems analysis simulations will enable visualisation of hosting capacity per feeder across the entire system.

Amongst the criteria that EPRI looks for are industry leaders and innovators. Attaining this level of leadership is rooted in acquiring inspiration from others. Tell us about your role model.

My role model is more than a person.  I am encouraged when ordinary people achieve greatness while preserving their integrity. I tend to follow people with good intentions; honest belief systems and a good moral compass. I am a firm believer of the natural laws that exist through cause and effect. Some call this Karma. My role model is therefore embodied in people who demonstrate these traits.

What values do you demonstrate as a leader/innovator that others can learn from?

My greatest traits are curiosity, creativity and innovation whilst ensuring balance between possibility and practicality. My self-reflection to acquire wisdom allows me to absorb all that is new and thirst for more. I am attracted to cutting-edge technology research with advanced analytical problem solving. I have a high affinity to mitigate business risk, by providing direction through technology based solutions. I believe that for every complex problem, there is a simple solution.

What invigorates and inspires you about the work you are doing at Eskom?

I work with a very capable team of engineers in the Planning Centre of Excellence, led by a highly competent manager Mr Kurt Dedekind. Kurt inspires us to challenge our own limitations for the benefit of wires business and the planning fraternity. Our success is based on a mature environment that nurtures individualism. Kurt demonstrates the epitome of incubating positive thought, which allows us to thrive as engineers.

I enjoy being continuously challenged, to address a spectrum of engineering related problems and seek out solutions that will enable the workspace of all our engineers.

What are you excited about in terms of the future of how energy will be generated, distributed and managed?

I am excited that our future grid will open new opportunities for a multitude of stakeholders to enter the energy market. Research-enabled initiatives in the energy sector will enable South Africans to contribute to the African and global story. Introduction of smart technologies, from homes to transportation and business expansion efficiencies will improve productivity and enable economic growth.

What are you most concerned about when you think about the future of our energy resources?

I believe that we need to ensure that there is an orderly and controlled expansion of energy resources onto the grid. The power system is the largest machine ever build by man and while it can be forgiving, failure to respect or understand the principles of operation can be unforgiving and costly. New energy resource technologies entering the grid must be evaluated for optimum size and location ensuring least economic life cycle cost of electricity. Balancing the mix of energy resources and appropriate technologies are critical success factors to new entrants to the grid.

What is your personal vision for the energy sector in South Africa?

I envision an affordable energy sector that enables all South Africans to live, travel and work using energy wisely. I see smart home and business energy systems that efficiently draw from and supply to the grid as required. Use of fuel cell and storage technology that reduces local demand peaks from the grid thereby enabling effective control and management of local and national peak demands. I see smart transportation systems that efficiently reduce our carbon footprint. We need policy makers, fiscal funding, political will and engineering passion to make it happen!

What message do you wish to share with your peers throughout Africa?

My fellow engineers, our skills, knowledge and competence give us a unique advantage to lead projects and economic activity. We should stand together with industry, academia and research institutes and use the electric grids to serve as catalyst for growth and development. Let our infrastructure be the super-highways that connect our countries to serve the people. We have an abundance of energy resources and mineral wealth to power up this continent; enable development of our people to ensure the prosperity of the next generation. What are we waiting for?

About Eng. Sanjian Malapermal

MalapermalEng. Sanjian Malapermal, Eskom’s Chief Engineer with Group Technology – Planning & GIS CoE, is disciplined in the integration of grid distributed renewable resources, with 22 years of industry experience. He has served as Network Planning Manager for the central region currently engaged in research involved in distributed renewable integration – grid impact and look forward to registering a PhD.