Increasing electricity tariffs and ongoing load shedding has resulted in a lot of interest from private-sector clients to guarantee their energy security independent of electricity utility Eskom, according to newly-appointed Zutari Energy Unit Leader Janice Foster. Coupled with the global move towards ‘green’ energy, much of this interest is in renewable energy. An example of this trend is the recent announcement by Stellenbosch of an investigation into adopting alternate energy sources to mitigate the impact of load shedding in the city.
Foster highlights that the national procurement of new generation, especially as emergency or back-up power, was re-initiated by a Request for Proposals issued by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy to procure 2 000 MW under the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producers Procurement (RMIPPP) Programme by June 2022.
Zutari’s pre-eminence in the energy space as a co-creator of integrated solutions is indicated by the fact that it has been involved in 50% of the submitted RMIPPP project bids, reveals Foster, who was appointed to the role of Energy Unit Leader in November 2020. A direct response to the short-term electricity supply gap identified in the Integrated Resource Plan of 2019, the RMIPPP aims to alleviate the current electricity supply constraints facing South Africa.
Similar to the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, Foster points out that it is the first programme of its kind to be technology-agnostic. This means that hybrid plants are an option, and may comprise multiple technologies such as gas, renewables and battery energy storage.
“Our client base extends from public-sector clients on a municipal and provincial level to private-sector clients such as project lenders and investors, owners and developers,” explains Foster. As a multi-disciplinary engineering firm, Zutari has delivery units providing services across energy, water, infrastructure, transport, resources and manufacturing and advisory.
The energy unit comprises four teams, namely generation, transmission and distribution, industrial power and automation and systems studies and network planning. Hence the team provides services across the full spectrum of energy projects from small scale individual projects to regional-level modelling. The industrial team focuses on design delivery of electrical power and automation systems in the energy, mining, oil and gas, water, wastewater and renewable energy industries.
“One of our major competitive advantages in the energy space is that we are a one-stop shop. Working closely with Zutari’s other delivery units , we can do everything from providing environmental assessments to detailed geotechnical investigations and structural design and of course all of the detail in terms of the electrical engineering,” explains Foster. “We are one of the best energy teams on the continent, encompassing end-to-end services and some highly experienced individuals.”
Another advantage for Zutari is that its expertise largely resides in South Africa, providing quicker and easier access to its clients’ challenges. With the company focusing on engineered solutions mainly in Sub-Saharan and Eastern Africa, it is very active in the energy space in the region. The energy unit works closely with other Zutari teams to deliver integrated solutions. “We have developed a number of innovative digital tools around solar photovoltaic design automation and performance-monitoring tools. We also have an in-house 3D visualisation team that allows us to present all of these solutions to our clients in that space,” points out Foster.
In terms of challenges, Foster highlights that technological change tends to outpace policy or legislation. “At the moment that is probably one of the biggest limiting factors to opening up the energy market. If you look at the sheer pace of change, energy-storage battery systems were considered financially unviable not even two years ago; now almost every new generation project looks to consider this. Meanwhile, hydrogen is being flagged as the next big thing in energy.”
With a background in both nuclear and wind energy, Foster stresses that her remit as the Energy Unit Lead is to position it to capitalise on the growth opportunities on the continent over the next couple of years. “The current global interest in energy and energy security in particular keeps things interesting. What I really love about the sector is that every client and project is unique and presents their own unique challenges. It definitely keeps all of us on our toes,” concludes Foster.