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Stability, maintenance, digital revolution: key issues in focus at Africa’s premier power forum

New power sector priorities are emerging across Africa, such as the financing of new power projects, integration of independent power projects, sustainable plant management and the role of the digital revolution in power generation and distribution today.

According to local and international power experts speaking ahead of the POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa conference and expo, keeping the lights on is no longer good enough. Growth is crucial, sustainability is not negotiable, and forward-looking strategies must incorporate digital innovation and integration of smaller, distributed generation into the grid.

At POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa 2018, experts will assess the trends, challenges and solutions in power generation and distribution across the continent, covering issues such as the impact of integrating VRE systems into African grids, the future of flexible hybrid solutions, storage solutions, floating power plants, improving asset management and system performance, and blockchain technology for electrifying Africa. Pan-African and international case studies will assess NamPower’s Encroacher Bush Biomass Power Project, the Robben Island Microgrid, and South African experiences in Peaking Projects.

Dr. Willie de Beer, chairperson of the POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa advisory board, says the power sector is operating in a disruptive landscape, in which the kw/h business is no longer sustainable. “We are now confronted from a broader industry perspective with things like leadership challenges, how well we operate and run our utilities, and how we should capitalise on the environment to remain relevant into the future,” he says. With tracks covering strategic and management issues through to technology and trends, POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa addresses the top of mind power topics in Africa today.

POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa attracts over 3,000 delegates annually, including power industry stakeholders, utilities and sub-Saharan government officials from pan-Africa and abroad. A delegation of over 50 pan-African power sector VIPs will also attend.  The forum, serving as an important annual knowledge-sharing and networking platform, also offers delegates pre-scheduled B2B matchmaking.

POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa 2018 will be staged from 17 – 19 July at the Sandton Convention Centre, covering the gamut of power generation and distribution trends, technologies and solutions for Africa.  Over 70 leading local and international brands will showcase solutions in the free-to-access exhibition area.



World investors look to Zimbabwe

Infrastructure stakeholders from around the world are showing keen interest in Zimbabwe as a new spirit of optimism takes root in the country.

South African business, with its tendency to ‘wait and see’, could miss the boat in terms of opportunities in Zimbabwe, while international investors flock to Zimbabwe to explore new business potential there. This is according to Duncan Bonnett, Director Strategy & Business Development at research and consulting specialists Africa House, who has led two fact-finding and business development delegations to Zimbabwe in recent months.

“The prevailing spirit in Zimbabwe has changed dramatically over the past years,” says Bonnett. “Zimbabwe’s public and private sectors are more positive than they have been in possibly 15 years, but with a sense of realism. Significant infrastructure and industrial revitalisation projects are planned, but there are still certain challenges in the way of realising them.”

As managers of the pan-African VIP programme for POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa 2018, Bonnet says Zimbabwe presents significant opportunities for South African power businesses.


Power is a key factor underpinning Zimbabwe’s aims to restart its manufacturing sector and boost economic growth, Bonnett notes. “The country is focused on rehabilitation, upgrading and expansion.” Manufacturing was once a key sector of the economy and the basic manufacturing infrastructure still exists in many cases. However, it needs investment, modernisation and reliable power to get up and running again.

“Zimbabwe currently has a power shortfall of around 250mW or 14%, but as new mining and industrial projects roll out, this shortfall will become more pronounced. To address this, there are new mega hydro and coal-fired projects on the table; but also a number of smaller power projects.” One of these, he notes, is a plan to link new smaller scale hydro power production with enhanced irrigation projects around the country. A number of renewable and solar projects are also planned, while even at a municipal level, authorities are looking to projects such as solar powered street lights.


Nigeria: Africa’s prime power development hotspot

Nigeria offers a wealth of power sector business opportunities, with industrialists actively seeking generation and distribution solutions to power their business growth.

Paul Runge, Director Projects & Development Finance at research and consulting specialists Africa House, reports that his recent missions to Nigeria have revealed numerous opportunities for power sector businesses, particularly those operating in the renewable energy, solar energy, power storage, technical and training and specialist financial consulting arenas.

Africa House, also the research partner of the premier African power sector conference and exhibition, POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa, believes Nigeria is currently a hotspot for power industry development.

“With a population officially in the region of 186 million, serious power challenges and massive industrial growth potential, Nigeria is actively seeking new and viable power solutions to drive economic growth,” says Runge.

The Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria is among the organisations looking to alternative power solutions; since its members face growth constraints due to unstable grid power. “Some areas have grid power for only 9 – 16 hours a day. This could cause serious problems for industries like smelters or manufacturers. To overcome downtime, most manufacturers invest heavily in diesel generators, which adds to their bottom line costs. They are looking to renewable energy and hybrid solutions to assure power supply and support their growth,” he says.


Biomass: untapped potential in Africa

There is significant potential for biomass power generation to supplement the energy mix and support decentralisation strategies, but this potential remains largely untapped, say experts.

Speaking ahead of the pan-African power sector forum POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa 2018, international power sector experts participating in the conference noted that biomass optimisation presented both challenges and opportunities in Africa.

As a renewable, carbon neutral and potentially cost effective power source, biomass is being harnessed effectively around the world, with Research and Markets’ ‘Biomass to Power’ report stating that by late 2016, there were approximately 3,600 active biomass power plants throughout the world, with an electricity generation capacity of approximately 51 GW.

Marko Nokkala, Technical Director at VTT-TECH Research CTR in Finland, says biomass presents good opportunities for Africa, but that few new biomass projects are actually being developed. “We fail to see why projects are not happening,” he says. “One major challenge appears to be a lack of understanding of the pros and cons of the different biomass technologies available. There is also a lack of capex – in South Africa, for example, we believe there are five or six firm biomass projects being investigated, but no credit lines for these projects.”

Dr. Jens Reich, Head of Sales of the Energy Technology Department of STEAG Energy Services GmbH, says biomass’s potential is still unlocked across Africa. “Key reasons for this include challenges in securing the supply chain. It is crucial for any such investment to have secure feedstock and suppliers,” he says.


Financing, digital revolution top of mind ahead of POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa

New power sector priorities are emerging across Africa, including financing of major power projects, joining the dots between generation and the 650 million ‘power poor’, and becoming agile in a digital world, report the experts convening ahead of POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa conference and expo.

Pan-African and international power sector experts who met in Johannesburg last week to assess papers for the upcoming POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa 2018 report that key power challenges and priorities have changed across Africa in recent years.

The POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa advisory board, which meets annually to review papers to be presented at the conference, says there has been a clear change in focus in recent years. Where as recently as five years ago, the continent’s primary focus was on generation, there is growing urgency among players to address issues such as developing continent-wide, integrated strategies to deliver power to the estimated 650 million who still have no access to power.

Utilities’ balance sheets and business models are also in the spotlight; as is the impact of digital technologies on the sector as a whole.



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