CSIR ENERGY CENTRE INTERVIEW: “We are entering an exciting time, and are on the cusp of a major evolution of the electricity and energy system. We need new business models, technologies and skills.”
Exclusive interview with Dr Clinton Carter-Brown, Head: Energy Centre, CSIR and member of the African Utility Week POWERGEN Africa Advisory Board.
1) Let’s start with some background on the CSIR’s Energy Centre– there is already a proud history there.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Energy Centre was established in 2014 to consolidate and build the CSIR capabilities in the energy domain. The centre has had a profound impact on the local energy landscape, providing thought leadership on the energy options available to South Africa and the broader region.
2) What does your role entail?
The CSIR’s Energy Centre aims to be the first port of call for South African decision makers in politics, business and science to advise them on the energy transition. This transition is a move towards a more sustainable and cleaner energy system and will ultimately lead to energy being used more efficiently and supplied by a significant share of renewables in the primary energy supply, while leveraging existing thermal energy sources as will remain a significant share of the energy system for some time. The CSIR’s Energy Centre will also leverage the learning from the South African energy transition to support the creation of sustainable energy systems for other African countries.
3) Any particular energy efficiency projects in the energy and water sectors you are currently involved in?
We are presently implementing a pilot smart electric water heating project on our CSIR campus in Pretoria, assessing the potential energy savings and benefits in creating a flexible load utilising the considerable energy storage inherent with hot cylinder water heating.
4) What are the main challenges with regards to South Africa’s energy future? And the opportunities?
The immediate liquidity challenges in Eskom and municipalities combined with deteriorating aging infrastructure and the need to evolve the utility business models provide a proverbial melting pot for a major revolution in the South African energy system.
The recent events of insufficient electricity generation availability (resulting in national load shedding) combined with rising oil prices and a high dependence on imported liquid fuels for the transportation sector, all point to the need to carefully reconsider the energy structure and mix.
South Africa is blessed with indigenous low cost sustainable resources, whereby cheap renewable energy can form the backbone of the energy system in which electricity is used as a cost effective carrier for transportation and heat, reducing dependence on fossil fuels and potentially becoming a supplier of cost effective sustainable synthetic fuels to the international market. The abundance of renewable energy sources will also see the widespread implementation of embedded power generation such as rooftop PV and waste-to-energy, which combined with electric vehicles and stationary energy storage will complement energy supply from the national system.
5) What is your vision for the energy sector in the South Africa? And for the continent?
The future will see a merging of the electricity, transporting and heating sectors leveraging abundant low cost renewable energy to produce some of the cheapest energy in the world, with South Africa becoming a global player and exporter of clean synthetic fuels and chemicals.
6) You are a member of the advisory board for African Utility Week in Cape Town in May. What will be your message at the event?
We are entering an exciting time, and are on the cusp of a major evolution of the electricity and energy system. We need new business models, technologies and skills. We need to develop and localise the transformative technologies that will accelerate the electrification of the African continent. Bold decisions need to be taken on industry restructuring, a commitment to a just energy transition, and the development and implementation of a research and innovation roadmap that will plot a path forward.
7) What are you most looking forward to at African Utility Week?
Catching up with old colleagues and making new friends in the energy space, and hearing of the exciting developments they are driving.