Negative or neutral?
One would think that all things energy, such as energy efficiency and energy innovation, would have the public and private sectors storming the Africa Energy Indaba, fighting to get in, right? Wrong. Seems that much of the energy has gone out of the enthusiasm, reports KIM KEMP.
The 2014 Africa Energy Indaba, which was held at the Sandton Convention Centre between February 18 and 20, is regarded as the premier investment and trade destination in South Africa, yet it seemed to evoke more of an air of obligation and a need “to be seen” than of highly energised interest – from the South African public specifically.
Is it possibly owing to the veritable inundation of compliance that is thrust at us on every level, every day – regarding either tightening our belts, switching off the geyser, or using water sparingly – that has finally deadened and desensitised us to any further acquiescence on our part?
Brian Staham, chairman of the Africa Energy Indaba and The South African National Energy Association (SANEA), explained that the Energy Indaba was a forum for South Africans and Africans to unite and work together to realise the continent’s true potential, encouraging diversity and debate. But there can’t be too much of that if the people aren’t there to debate.
The exhibition, while host to the usual companies and institutions, had little new to draw the visitors in; it was all much the same as previous years.
The numerous people (both visitors and exhibitors) I spoke to, commented ruefully on the dwindling numbers “compared to the last two years”. These comments were echoed by two rather bored looking people manning a stand, while others voiced ambivalence at the general poor showing.
Nevertheless, the plenary sessions promised to be interesting, supporting the call “Looking for energy” with topics around the Trilemma Issues (comprising energy security, social equity, and environmental impact mitigation); Decentralised Energy Supply; Energy – Water – Food Nexus; Carbon Management; The Role of Government and Market in Energy Security; Political Volatility and Funding Risk; Energy for Transport; Regional Interconnection; Electricity Storage; Realisation of Gas Potential and Energy Scenarios.
There were a couple of common threads, however, that wove through the collective consciousness, namely the green issues and education.
“Going green” was on everyone’s lips amidst much reference to “what overseas is doing”, from wind farms to educating the public. Interestingly, this viewpoint seemed to flow into skills development, where the question was asked: “How do we ensure the transfer of skills within our country, when so many ‘consultants’ are brought in to upgrade the skills base?”
A call for more structured and involved commitment from the public and private sector evoked a mild debate – it had to be mild, as the hall was about 15 to 20 percent full – with reference to the old apprenticeship scheme, where a “greenhorn” would shadow his artisan mentor and learn on the job, coming away with vast experience and exposure, ready to tackle the job
Linked to this was the call for “less of an academic approach, with degrees and doctorates” and for “more people benefitting from skills transfer and HR departments recruiting correctly.” But, as I said, the interaction was mild, even though there were about six Sector Eductation and Training Authority (Seta) representatives present, who I feel could have added a bit of vigour to the discussion.
The exhibition offered a forum for educational institutions, which were well represented. They beckoned to the younger visitors to join a variety of programmes, from renewable energy research eExcellence; obtaining a Certification in energy, or joining one of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s (Nepad’s) initiatives.
There is absolutely no doubt that there is a sector of the vast energy industry that remains committed and focused, but the decrease in numbers of people attending the show is of concern, more so as South Africa enters another gloomy phase of rolling blackouts …