SAAEE INTERVIEW: “We need to promote quality research and energy role models so that we attract and train the new generation of energy economists.”

Roula Inglesi-Lotz President of the South African Association for Energy Economics (SAAEE), African Utility Week.1)    Let’s start with some background on you and the work that you do in the energy sphere?
I consider myself an energy curious and enthusiast person, an economic researcher. Arriving in South Africa from Greece in 2007, I experienced first-hand the infamous electricity supply crisis of 2008/09 that intrigued me into focusing my research on energy and understanding more the specific case of South Africa. In 2011, I completed my PhD proposing a benchmark-and-trade model to improve electricity intensity in the country. Since then, my research focuses on energy and environmental issues seeking answers to pressing issues associated with traditional ways of consuming and generating energy as well as investigating new and alternative solutions for higher efficiency in the consumption of energy and renewable fuels for generating energy.

Except for academic research, I have participated in national and international technical projects, for clients such as Eskom, Greenpeace, WWF, South African Department of Energy, and South African Department of Science and Technology. From a human capacity point of view, being an Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Pretoria, I supervise postgraduate students and teach energy and environmental economics at Masters Level, preparing thus the future generation of energy economists. The last couple of years, in collaboration with Prof James Blignaut (my PhD supervisor and mentor) and the Australian National University (ANU), we present a course on Energy and Mineral Economics to practitioners in various sectors of the energy fields from the whole African continent, funded fully by the Australian Awards.

2)    Any particular projects in the energy sector that you are involved in that you are excited about at the moment?
Except for my usual involvement with academic and technical research as well as student supervision, we are launching the South African Association for Energy Economics (SAAEE) of which I am presiding. Through my experience over the years and discussions with colleagues from all spheres of the energy sector, the need for a platform to exchange new ideas and knowledge, networking opportunities and promoting and encouraging energy research was a frequent topic.

Colleagues and energy enthusiasts, we all came together, and with the support from the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE), to make an effort towards creating a national forum for energy specialists from all professions and spheres of the energy sector (academia, industry, government, private and public sector). It intends to build intellectual capacity and thereby improve energy policy propositions and implementations. SAAEE aims at providing a suite of benefits for its members (such as access to the IAEE publications) as well as a continuous involvement with the current affairs of the local and international energy sector, through: a bi-annual Newsletter with experts‘ opinions and a calendar of energy events nationally, panel discussions of current energy and environmental topics where energy specialists debate and exchange ideas and perspectives, experts‘ talks and presentations; technical workshops where energy specialists present a variety of modelling and quantitative methods used in the energy field nationally and internationally, members‘ database including not only contact information but also, topics and work in progress, and a student chapter with activities that provide expansion of skills and networking opportunities. For all AUW attendees that are also interested in this effort, please visit us at www.saaee.org.za (might still be under construction – please be patient), follow us in Facebook, or contact me at roula.inglesi-lotz@up.ac.za or president@saaee.org.za

3)    Is there a shortage of energy economists in South Africa and Africa? What can this profession contribute to the sector?
The lack of skills and more importantly, skills aligned with the needs of the South African economy and the entire African continent is a fact that we have to change soon to assist the African continent develop in the future. Regarding the energy field, its multidisciplinary nature is more demanding in the combination of skills needed, how can an energy report be complete if it does not consider engineering or environmental or economic (and many more) aspects?

Shortage of energy economists? I would say that economics is a field with so many different sub-fields that indeed most economists follow mainstream fields as monetary and trade economics. However, I would say that this fact changes slowly but surely. In my experience, young economists are curious, interested, and sensitive on topics of climate change and energy security and their connection to developmental issues. To do so, we need to promote quality research and energy role models so that we attract and train the new generation of energy economists. This can be achieved with awareness programmes, active participation in energy policy discussions, and general open debates on energy issues.

4)    The SAAEE has partnered with African Utility Week – what will be your message at the event in May?
We need more collaboration in the energy sector; we need to be able to know what other researchers are busy with; we need to know whom the experts are and how to contact them. To promote knowledge, to produce better quality research, to propose and implement evidence-based policies, the sector needs to talk energy. I find the AUW being one of the best examples of what I am referring to, still the sector needs more avenues for interaction opportunities. Hopefully, SAAEE will provide this platform and promote integration amongst the various professions within the energy field while facilitating building of intellectual capacity and exchange of ideas.