Digital skills scarcity deters SA smart grids uptake

Schneider Electric Vice President of Power Systems for Southern Africa, Mr. Taru MadangombeSchneider Electric Vice President of Power Systems for Southern Africa, Mr. Taru Madangombe

by TINTSWALO BALOYI 
JOHANNESBURG – SOUTH Africa is missing out on the benefits of smart grid investments amid lack of digital skills.

This is the view of an energy industry executive, Taru Madangombe, who points out the benefits as lower costs, better customer service and more reliable and efficient electric system operations.

Thus, the uptake of smart grid systems has not reached its potential.

“This energy revolution is causing dynamic changes in the market,” said Madangombe, Vice President of Power Systems in Southern Africa for Schneider Electric.

The official said one of the major challenges was the unavailability of good technical competencies, as people needed to adapt from traditional power systems, with labour intensive practices, to a new model based on digitisation.

“This Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), ushering in the industrial internet of things (IIoT), requires new skills and expertise based on digital expertise. In the implementation of a smart grid system, there is a gap between the available skills and understanding of the system.”

Schneider Electric is updating of digital training courses at universities and technical colleges across South Africa and in the Anglophone region, including East Africa.

Madangombe said these skills needed to address the region’s requirements of new connectivity, new mobility, remoteness of regions and how to make systems more efficient, smarter and reliable.

“It is no longer about learning how to commission switchgear, it is about reading, analysing and reacting to data coming in from multiple sources on the grid.”

He said of even more interest to South Africa is the concept of microgrids, a localised power grid that can operate either in conjunction with the main electrical grid or independently of it, as an ‘island.’

This offers opportunities to smaller municipalities and remote communities.

The system is seen as offering the most feasible opportunities for Africa, as electrification still has not reached 600 million in sub-Saharan Africa because of the huge capital investment required for grid strengthening through construction of large substations and long transmission line.

In South Africa, Madangombe said, 89 percent electrification had been reached but the figure remained stagnant in the past 10 years because of insufficient infrastructure, to justify investment in transmission lines to some remote areas.

“Therefore off-grid systems are the answer to these challenge,” Madangombe concluded.

– CAJ News

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