The beleaguered South African power utility, Eskom and the Cape Peninsular University of Technology (CPUT) have recently signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to formalise their partnership to set up a renewable energy training centre at Komati Power Station in Mpumalanga. Eskom was represented by its chief executive offer, Andre de Ruyter while vice-chancellor, Professor Chris Nhlapo represented CPUT. Energy experts say the signing of the MoA sets the power utility on an irrevocable path to find alternative and cleaner sources of energy.
The signing of the agreement was preceded by a visit to the site at the Komati Power Station in April this year. The South African Wind Energy Association and the South African Solar Photovoltaic Industry Association are also integral part of the renewable energy project. In terms of the agreement, CPUT would establish a South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (Saretec) to support Eskom for 36 months to establish a similar re-purposed renewable energy training facility to train artisans and technicians at Eskom’s Komati Power Station. The Training Facility at Eskom’s Komati Power Station will be managed by Eskom’s Academy of Learning. Komati is the first of Eskom’s power stations to be decommissioned through the Just Energy Transition Programme and it will be converted into an Agri-Solar facility.
The agreement is part of Eskom’s Just Energy Transition strategy whose objective is to educate, re-skill and upskill Komati’s staff and qualifying beneficiaries from the surrounding communities. South Africa has to substantially reduce its carbon footprint by 2050 as it is currently the world’s 14th largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the main air polluter in the sub-Saharan Africa. Its CO2 emissions are attributed to its heavy reliance on coal to generate energy.
Professor Nhlapo said: “Saretec is already part of a portfolio of excellence at CPUT. We have a proven track record of being trusted with nationally imperative projects and consistently fulfilling and exceeding the brief.” He said CPUT is an ideal institution to partner with Eskom as it has the necessary capacity and expertise to deliver the project. He said the initiative is mutually beneficial to all the parties. “At a very high-level it is also an opportunity for CPUT as per the Higher Education Act to respond to the needs of the Republic and of the communities we served by contributing to the energy challenges faced by the country,” added Professor Nhlapo.
Decarbonising energy supply
De Ruyter said the agreement comes amid a global movement where countries are urged to accelerate a shift towards a clean and renewable energy. He said the transition would require new skillset, retrain and develop a workforce to take full advantage of the opportunities presented. He said Saretec is better placed to support Eskom because of its accreditation, institutional capacity it has built over the years and the existing skills and therefore there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Promoting economic growth
De Ruyter said while focus is on retrofitting its coal-fired power station to decarbonise energy supply, it is vital to create an environment that will also promote economic growth particularly in areas where power plants are situated to prevent any possibility of creating ghost towns after the decommissioning phase. Said de Ruyter: “We estimate that 300 000 jobs could be created thanks to the transition to renewable energy and that is why it is so important that we engage with a reputable education institution like CPUT to reskill these people who are currently working in the coal value chain to work in renewable energy.”
The ramping up of renewable energy projects will boost the country’s economic growth by creating jobs which will require new skills to construct, operate and maintain the new plants. The employee will not be limited to working at Eskom only but would also be able to compete for jobs in the rapidly growing green jobs sector globally.