on May 12th, 2023

The recent Solar & Future Energy Show Africa 2023 demonstrates the critical role of engineers in shaping Africa’s and the world’s energy future and urges greater involvement.

As South Africa and the world grapples with urgent green energy generation solutions, the recent Solar & Future Energy Show Africa 2023, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, proved to be a timely event. And the Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) South Africa office was also there to share in this gathering of over 13,000 global attendees, hundreds of inspiring speakers, and innovative brands showcasing the latest tech.

With the growing demand for energy and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, At the Future Energy Show Africa 2023, engineers played a crucial role in showcasing the latest technology and solutions that can help to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and accelerate the adoption of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydropower.

With expertise in designing and implementing innovative energy solutions, engineers will have the opportunity to highlight the critical role of their profession in shaping the future of the energy industry in Africa. But what is the role of engineers in promoting environmental sustainability in solar power generation in South Africa and the rest of the world, and what specific skills and expertise do engineers bring to the table?

Considering South Africa’s energy crisis, at the event we caught up with Mfundi Erasmus Songo, a Senior Manager: Substations & Lines in Technology & Engineering within the Eskom Distribution Division, to discuss the role of engineers in creating long-term solutions for all.

Mfundi Erasmus Songo, Eskom Senior Manager and engineer with almost 30 years of experience.

The Critical Role of Engineers

Songo noted that many experts in the field already agree that engineers can play a critical role in transitioning towards renewable energy sources by researching and developing newer and better renewable energy solutions.

Furthermore, Songo, who has close to 30 years of engineering experience, highlighted that engineers could identify the shortcomings of current systems and develop improved technology that can drastically reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

“They [engineers] can help to develop efficient and cost-effective systems that utilize renewable energy sources, like solar panels and wind turbines, as well as the accompanying storage systems. Engineers can also work towards reducing energy consumption through smart grid systems and other optimization techniques,” he said.

Along this vein, Eskom, which has been battling with load shedding (controlled power outages) for years, is developing microgrids as a proposed solution to load shedding. Microgrids are distributed power systems that can operate independently or in conjunction with the national grid and are charged by hydro and solar energy.

Songo pointed out that cost-effective, environmentally friendly microgrids can help mitigate the impact of load shedding by allowing businesses and households to generate electricity. He said this would provide a backup power source during load shedding or other disruptions to the national grid.

“For conventional electricity to power a small town, you must lay cables that cost around ZAR 1 billion. Whereas with a micro-grid that can power around 50 homes or businesses, it would only cost a maximum of ZAR 50 million.”

Benefits and Challenges of Micro-grids

According to Songo, providing reliable and sustainable energy, such as that produced by microgrids, can help reduce communities’ carbon footprint and support the transition to a low-carbon economy. Additionally, deploying microgrids can help address issues related to energy access and inequality, which affect many rural communities in South Africa and other countries.

One of the advantages of microgrids is their flexibility and scalability. Microgrids can operate independently or in conjunction with the national grid, allowing for optimal use of renewable energy sources and energy storage systems. Additionally, the deployment of microgrids can be tailored to the specific energy needs of a community and can be expanded or reduced as needed. This flexibility can help to promote the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of microgrid projects.

However, despite the potential benefits of microgrids, there are still challenges that must be addressed. These challenges include regulatory barriers, financing, technical knowledge, and local partnerships. Songo stressed that addressing these challenges will require cooperation between various stakeholders, including government, private sector firms, and local communities. He said this also includes engineers being there every step of the way.

“For too long, engineers have only been allowed to design, give specs and identify the sites. It is time that we also are included in environmental legislative decisions and other aspects that lead to the successful implementation of projects,” said Songo.

He added that engineers need to be at the forefront of these discussions, offering practical solutions and ideas for building a more sustainable energy future and helping expedite the implementation of much-needed interventions that can often get tied up in lengthy bureaucratic processes.

The EIT South Africa team at the Solar & Future Energy Show Africa 2023.

Overall, the Future Energy Show Africa 2023 provided a unique opportunity for engineers to share their expertise, connect with other stakeholders, and shape the direction of the energy industry in Africa. Next year’s event promises to be as exciting and engaging of a platform for engineers to showcase their work and collaborate with other stakeholders in the pursuit of a cleaner, more sustainable energy future — and EIT will definitely be there!

REFERENCES

Eskom plans to power SA households with micro-grids made of upcycled shipping containers:
Mfundi Erasmus Songo

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