In the second and final part of his interview the author’s interview with Chris Ahlfeldt, Founder and Director of Blue Horizon Energy, and impact and sustainability advisor, Chris provides his thoughts on South Africa’s internationally commended renewable energy auction programme, how the next generation of young South African energy leaders can be identified and empowered and shares some of his hopes for the future.
Renewable Energy Independent Power Procurement Programme
Ken Fullerton (KF): Moving on, let’s focus on South Africa’s internationally acclaimed Renewable Energy Independent Power Procurement Programme (REIPPP) which has helped keep on the lights and prevent more extreme load-shedding from occurring. Four bidding rounds have already occurred and projects are in various stages of operation and construction. Despite preferred bidders being selected and announced for Round 4, why was there a delay in signing he contracts? How can this be avoided in Round 5?
Chris Ahlfeldt (CA): Eskom’s historic monopoly over power generation in the country created a conflict of interest with IPPs that sell electricity through Eskom. Even though the IPP costs were a direct pass through to customers, Eskom tried to delay the signing of contracts they saw as a threat to the energy sales from their generation fleet. Fortunately, the government’s Eskom Roadmap published last year should help address this conflict by reforming Eskom and the electricity sector in a way that allows for IPPs to sell directly to an independent Transmission System Operator for future procurement rounds of the REIPPP.
KF: In what ways has Blue Horizon supported REIPPP socio-economic development related projects and initiatives? And, how can these be transferred and scaled up on other REIPPP projects and key learnings be shared?
CA: We did a study for South Africa’s Solar PV Industry Association a few years ago on some of the lessons learned from solar projects in Rounds 1 and 2 on localization and economic development of REIPPPP. Likewise, similar research is also underway by South Africa’s Wind Energy Association (SAWEA), and other organizations so hopefully government factors in recommendations from the latest research and data on this topic to make sure Round 5 is as impactful for local communities and the economy as possible.
Empowering the next generation of energy professionals
KF: Thinking about the future, you are involved in teaching the next generation of young energy professionals at University of Stellenbosch Business School. What is your role there and why is it important to empower the next generation?
CA: I recently began teaching an Environmental Finance course at the University of Stellenbosch Business School and have helped with guest lecturing there over the past couple years. The clean energy and sustainability industries have the potential to address high youth unemployment in the country, so it’s important to teach the next generation of young professionals and future leaders in this field some of the practical skills they can apply when working in the industry.
I also volunteer my time to help run a youth sports and education non-profit in Cape Town called Yebo Volleyball, which has been another fun way to give back to the next generation. It’s been really rewarding to see some of the kids we first coached in primary school now studying at University and benefiting from volleyball scholarships while also helping us with the coaching at the primary schools where they graduated!
KF: How would you encourage more young professionals to get interested in studying energy, in particular renewables, at school and university and consider pursuing a career in the field?
CA: Taking classes on the subject is a good start if those are available at your school. If not, there are free resources online from other universities and online platforms like Coursera and the World Bank Online Class List about various renewable energy topics and entrepreneurial funding opportunities. I would also recommend speaking with people that work in the field to understand what they do for their job and what skills or qualifications they needed to get there. Likewise, trying to get up to speed on the latest current events through podcasts and local publications in the industry will help you understand what companies and potential job opportunities exist in this field.
KF: What other roles can energy experts and consultants, like yourself, play in identifying, educating and supporting young energy professionals?
CA: Looking for ways to employ, mentor, and/or volunteer time for young professionals will help them acquire the skills they need to be independent and help grow the industry for everyone involved in it. For example, there are a number of start-up incubators across the country many of which would benefit from mentors and volunteers from industry that can offer advice and referrals for young professionals to help them kick-start their careers.
KF: Power shortages, load shedding, and monopolistic national electricity providers are not unique to South Africa. What programs and policies of you are aware of in other African countries to diversify the sector, bring on more renewable energy, and develop innovative solutions?
CA: Renewable energy IPPs have had success in a number of other African countries through various procurement programs and auctions. Each market is at a different stage of development with some like Namibia having made more progress than South Africa on reforming its electricity market structure and implementing reforms for its national utility. Some countries in East and West Africa also have a thriving off-grid electrification sector, which can be further enabled by supporting regulations and policy certainty for companies operating in this market.
KF: In an ideal world, what does the future hold for energy consultants like yourself and organisations like Blue Horizon Energy in South Africa?
CA: The energy transition to a cleaner and more customer focused sector in South Africa and globally is still only in the early phase of development, so I’m looking forward to continuing to be part of this transition to help mitigate against the worst effects of climate change and help ensure that future development accounts for social and governance sustainability goals as well as the environment. For example, sustainability solutions that address inequality and climate change can’t be solved in silos, so we’ll need to continue to work across industry lines when developing and investing in these solutions over the coming decades.