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African Utility Week 2010 – driving Africa’s third industrial revolution


By Nicholas McDiarmid, Publishing Editor, ESI Africa

Last year’s African Utility Week (AUW) was a landmark event for the African electricity industry. Beyond the presentations and the extraordinary exhibition, talk in the corridors, over lunch and during the ceremonial events, was focused on a new future. That the approach to generation, transmission and distribution of electricity is undergoing a massive transformation and that to remain relevant it is imperative to be at the cutting edge was in no doubt. Few sceptics remained.

The true impact of no longer living in the industrial age was brought home as one speaker after the next including ministers, engineers, managers, financiers, utilities and technologists drove the point home that technology and socio-economic imperatives are finally at the point where social, industrial, commercial and environmental needs can actually be met. All that remains is for the political will (including economic) to heed today’s reality.

Subsequent to the Copenhagen Convention in Climate Change, it is apparent that the political will still lags far behind. As this is being written, the World Economic Forum is taking place in Davos, Switzerland, and has as its theme: “Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild”. AUW was addressing this a year ago! So we wait to see what the economists come up with.

Instrumental in bringing such unity of purpose to last year’s conference was keynote speaker Jeremy Rifkin, American economist and writer, public speaker, activist and visionary. His concept of the Third Industrial Revolution addresses the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change. In his keynote address, he inspired delegates by drawing attention to the fact that Africa is in a somewhat paradoxically enviable position, in that as a continent, it has not yet fully succumbed (with the exception of South Africa) to the carbon addiction of the developed nations. If it plays its cards wisely, Africa could build its energy foundations in context of the new global reality. This may be challenging, but it is extremely exciting: it calls for creativity, visionaries, economic wisdom and a massive amount of forethought.

AUW and its co-located event, Power Indaba has been recognised for ten years as the forum in which all stakeholders in the African Utility sector – public and private – can find unity of purpose. AUW 2010 will be the event where the inspiration from last year’s conference will be witnessed and carried forward. It is for this reason ESI Africa is publishing an abridged version of Jeremy Rifkin’s keynote address (p.20), both as a reminder of what we are working for, as well as for inspiration beyond the daily toil.

African Utility Week 2010 has been planned meticulously to not only bring both the quality and the quantity our delegates expect, but to exceed expectations. With high level and diverse speakers from across Africa, a unique five-track expanded programme that includes a water summit and a renewable energy breakaway forum, it is set to do just that.

This year, AUW is honoured to host Joseph Charles Wilson as keynote speaker. Joseph Charles Wilson (former Ambassador), is a modern day hero with years of experience in keeping the lights on in Africa and building up new infrastructure. Ambassador Wilson is widely recognised for his outspoken and unwavering belief in the truth, and is an inspiration to all leaders across the globe. In January 2007, Wilson joined Jarch Capital, LLC, as vice chairman, to advise the firm’s expansion in areas of Africa. Wilson was posted to African countries and to Iraq during the George H.W. Bush administration and later served as Special Assistant to US President Bill Clinton and as Senior Director for African Affairs on the US National Security Council.

AUW, which takes place from 22 to 25 February in Durban, South Africa, will be the international gathering point for those who are bringing technology together with real-world demands, and pushing for the sustainable development of this continent.