Govt moves to combat renewable energy skills dearth

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 09 Feb 2023

The South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (Saratec) has been expanded to cater for an increased number of students enrolled for the 2023 cohort, as it prepares to support the implementation of the Eskom Just Energy Transition (JET) strategy.

This was the word from Mthokozisi Mpofu, acting DG of the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, delivering a keynote address at the Solar Power Africa Conference 2023, in Cape Town, yesterday.

He discussed the crucial role of solar photovoltaic energy in realising SA’s vision to advance inclusive, low-carbon economic growth, particularly when accommodated with battery energy storage systems.

This, as embattled power utility Eskom continues to struggle to maintain a steady power supply, thereby putting the economy at risk.

Mpofu emphasised the importance of addressing the skills dearth in the renewable energy sector, as a vital step to meeting SA’s ambitious 2050 greenhouse gas emission reduction and renewable energy targets.

As part of this plan, government set up JET in 2020 as a vehicle focused on achieving “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050, with the potential to create new jobs, and a greater preservation of bio-diversity in SA.

In support of the JET strategy, Eskom and Saratec last year signed a memorandum of agreement, to formalise a collaboration to develop renewable energy artisan skills in SA.

“The South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre has been further developed, and is taking more trainees and making sure they are able to compete at an international level, so that South Africa will have enough skills and even export these skills to other markets,” noted Mpofu.

“Trainees must be able to understand and drive the infrastructure, test panels and drive the wiring. We need to start developing projects that are a combination of PV and battery. South African problems require South African solutions.”

As an initiative of the Department of Higher Education and Training through the National Skills Fund, Saratec was established as the first national renewable energy technology centre and is managed by the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

The centre expedites specialised industry-related and accredited training for the entire renewable energy industry, including short courses and workshops.

Mpofu reiterated government’s mission to see local renewable energy players establish manufacturing plants on local soil, noting government is prepared to eliminate any roadblocks that may be encountered along the way.

“One thing that is clear is that localisation needs to happen,” he pointed out.

“All I want to say to the solar PV industry is that SA is open for business opportunities; allow us in your space, we will assist where there are obstacles. We know that you cannot localise everything, but there are certain aspects that can be localised for the benefit of the public.”