The continent’s largest and most successful utility event took place in Cape Town, South Africa, last week and attracted more delegates and exhibitors from around the world than any of the previous year’s events. Co located with the inaugural Power Indaba —an event focussed on fast tracking investment into Africa’s Power Sector — the opening session saw gathering dignitaries and sector professionals from around the world.

South Africa Minister of Energy, Buyelwa Sonjica, graciously opened the event and in her speech, acknowledged the challenges facing the continent, and the value of the event in tackling the issues: “This annual event takes place at a time when there are discernible challenges facing the energy and minerals sectors around the world in general and Africa and South Africa in particular. It also takes place when opportunities to address these challenges are within reach.

I am encouraged by the numbers and the diversity of stakeholders (Governments, utilities, regulators, manufactures, implementers, financiers) that I see sitting here. I am equally impressed by the extent of response that the private sector has shown in this event by the exhibitions that have responded to invitations to be on show.  This is evidence of the great capacity of the industry to respond when called upon to address infrastructure challenges at utility and government level.

The challenge for a gathering like this is to package solutions in ways that are saleable, sustainable and affordable to decision-makers. Africa needs occasions like these where experts have an opportunity openly to debate energy issues and learn from experiences of others on a more levelled playing field.

While different stakeholders have different expectations and requirements from the sectors represented here, the challenge before us in Africa is to create a platform upon which relevant stakeholders, comprising governments, the private sector, neighbours in the region and across regions, can interact and have a discourse which will enable a win-win situation for all to emerge. This may need the creation of relevant institutions (public and private enterprise), legal and regulatory frameworks, creation of governance and institutional arrangements to facilitate the development of the necessary utility infrastructures for delivery of public service industries.

Furthermore, there is a need to create and facilitate smart financing mechanisms, creation of smart billing and revenue collections systems, innovative job creation, effective training and skills development all in a bid to grow our economies and improve the quality of life of our people in a sustainable way.”

Delegates, exhibitors and presenters acknowledged the event as a major success, covering all the issues and challenges noted by Sonjica. With 2008 being a watershed year for utilities and ministries across Africa — especially South Africa — it is expected that Africa Utility Week 2009 will strongly reflect the high level of activity in the electricity supply industry witnessed at this year’s event.

If you were unable to attend this event, I would encourage you to explore one of our subscription packages for direct access to all the presentations at Africa Utility Week and Power Indaba. Click here for more information.

Nicholas McDiarmid, Publishing Editor, ESI Africa