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Eskom outlines its plans for the future as the African Utility Week conference begins, saying growing power demand makes it crucial to implement new technologies.
CHALLENGES in maintaining the power system in South Africa have not held utilities back over the years, and today the country benefits from significant advancement in the energy and electricity sector.

This was how the chief executive officer of Eskom, Brian Dames, welcomed delegates to African Utility Week on 22 May at the Nasrec Expo Centre. The event is the continent’s largest utility services conference and exhibition, hosting over 5 000 industry professionals from over 60 countries; it will run until 24 May.

“Eskom has been involved in African Utility Week for the past five years,” Dames said in his opening address. “There is no doubt that Eskom is a significant player in the energy industry and South Africa and it will celebrate its 90th birthday in March 2013.

“As a company and country, we have grown beyond recognition, enjoying the extensive and sophisticated grids we have today. I trust we will continue to drive growth,” he said.

Despite successes in the provision of electricity to households and in the maintenance of the system, Dames said the organisation could not afford to rest on its laurels as there were still obstacles to overcome. “This year is indeed a challenge as it has the biggest peak shortfall between supply and demand and is managing a tight power system,” he explained.

Electricity demand
This was made even more trying with the arrival of winter, which led to ever-higher demand for electricity. “Power demand tonight is expected to go up by 2 000 megawatts. This could power Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique combined,” he said.

This made it imperative for the utility to respond to and implement new technologies, and Dames promised that Eskom would do this. “By 2030, the electricity industry will look quite different. We need a game changer, and it may well be gas in the form of natural gas or shale gas.”

He added: “We need to work together in a co-ordinated manner to achieve this.”

The chief operating officer in the department of energy, Thandeka Zungu, stepped in for minister Dipuo Peters. She concurred with Dames, saying: “Energy infrastructure is at the centre of national plans as it is an enabler of socio-economic development.”

It was necessary to improve energy security though, which could be done through regional development – this would help create low carbon economies.

Integrated Resource Plan
There were numerous projects in place to achieve these goals, not least of which was the department’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which aimed to foster sustainable development by reducing dependence on coal and implementing new technologies.

Zungu pointed out that the IRP had already attracted R70-billion in foreign direct investment over the past 12 months. This would go a long way in executing wind and solar projects already planned for Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Free State.

The department’s presence at the conference would therefore be invaluable, as it would allow officials to engage with industry leaders and establish a way forward. “The conference will allow us to reflect on challenges, but also allow us to put in place regulatory framework with the private sector,” she said.

In addition to electricity and energy, the conference is looking at key sectors such as water. It has eight main themes, covered in breakaway sessions held on 22 and 23 May. These themes are: metering, renewables, water, large industry, infrastructure investment, transmission and distribution (T&D) and smart grids, generation, and waste management.

Water association
Ger Bergkamp from the International Water Association in The Hague also spoke at the opening session, and focused on the importance of water for Africa. According to Bergkamp, the world’s population is expected to grow to around nine billion by 2050, with the biggest increases happening in Africa and Asia.

“There will not be mega-cities in Africa, but medium-sized cities growing quickly. There will be an increasing stress on water and the availability of water,” he explained. “It will therefore be necessary to increase policy coherence, accelerate access to water and make a large leap in water efficiency, which can be done by re-using water and through processes such as desalination.

These solutions could not be achieved in isolation as water, food and energy were inextricably interlinked. “There is a need for co-operation between water, energy and food,” he said.

“There are major opportunities for utilities and service providers, but you need to involve citizens early on and there is an urgent need to build the capacity of sectors to adjust and evolve.”

These opportunities are to be examined further in each of the theme sessions, as well as through site visits and workshops hosted daily.

Site visits
Site visits for each theme have been arranged for 24 May. Participants in the large power users and renewables sessions will visit the Coca-Cola bottling plant, Johannesburg Zoo and Absa Towers West to learn about reducing carbon footprints, adopting energy efficient lighting and constructing to reduce the consumption of energy, water and materials, among others.

Further site visits will include the Soweto infrastructure upgrade and rehabilitation project as part of the water sessions, and the Pikitup landfill gas to energy project, which falls under the waste management theme.

The conference is hosted at the Nasrec Expo Centre, on the corner of Rand Show and Nasrec roads, in Joburg’s southwest. For more information on the conference, exhibition and activities scheduled for African Utility Week, visit the website.

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