energy and power

Reskilling coal industry workers to start at Mpumalanga training centre

Eskom and SARETEC have entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to develop renewable energy artisan skills, starting with a training centre in Mpumalanga.

Eskom Group CEO Andre de Ruyter visited the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC) at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Bellville Campus yesterday to formalise the collaboration by signing the MoA.

SARETEC was established as South Africa’s first national renewable energy technology centre – it expedites specialised industry-related and accredited training for the entre renewable energy industry, including short courses and workshops. The Centre will support Eskom for the next 36 months to establish a similar renewable energy training facility fit for purpose to train artisans and technicians at Eskom’s Komati Power Station.

The objective is to educate, reskill and upskill Eskom Komati Power Station staff as well as qualifying beneficiaries from the surrounding communities in the Mpumalanga Region.

CPUT Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Nhlapo said the Western Cape’s largest university is the perfect home for a project of this nature because of everything the University has done to distinguish SARETEC from other energy centres. “We have a proven track record of being trusted with nationally imperative projects and consistently fulfilling and exceeding the brief. We have shown that CPUT has the requisite skills and agility,” said Nhlapo.

Creating a different future for workers in coal value chain

De Ruyter explained that the total budget to repurpose and repower Komati Power Station is in excess of R8 billion. “That is the amount of money at stake, that Eskom is prepared to put into ensuring we leave behind a legacy following Komati’s end of its era as a coal-fired power station. To ensure it has another future and we also create a future for subsequent generations that will be trained there.”

Eskom is currently in talks with international funders to back the project and they expect to be able to make an announcement on that funding by the end of October. The Group CEO said the utility is currently trying to source additional funding from around the world for similar work beyond Komati Power station as their coal-fired power stations reach the end of their lifespan.

“Initially we will focus on Komati first, but the ideas is to set that up as a centre of excellence for all of the Eskom workers, also contractors and other people who might be interested in working in the renewable energy business,” said de Ruyter

He pointed out that conversations with organisations such as SAPVIA and SAWEA indicate a shortage of around 16,000 existing employment opportunities in the renewable energy sector. “The opportunity therefore exists for workers in the renewables field who have received training at institutions such as CPUT to be taken into service.

“What we aim to do is create opportunities for workers in the coal-mining value chain and also for youths living in areas around coal mines, who are appropriately educated, to be retrained and taken into service,” explained de Ruyter.

Rehabilitating power station starts with training centre

The R8bn would not cover only the training centre but also a 100MW solar plant and manufacturing to enable minigrids as well as a 40 to 70MW wind power plant. “And we will have to do rehabilitation work to ensure we leave behind a proper legacy,” said de Ruyter.

Potential employment opportunities would not only benefit people directly employed by the Komati Power Station. Extensive research funded by the European Union, the World Bank and Eskom itself shows that even after accounting for job losses in South Africa’s coal value chain, the country could see around 300,000 new jobs created in the renewable energy industry. De Ruyter says this is as a result of the country building new solar and wind farms and all the associated opportunities.

“But, of course these are skilled jobs, these are jobs that require qualifications. And, therefore it is so important for us to engage with a reputable academic institutions that has a record of training people with a credible qualification, such as CPUT, to ensure we can also reskill people who are currently employed in the coal vale chain to go and work in the renewable energy industry,” said de Ruyter.

Given the accelerated global movement towards investment in a clean energy transition, this opportunity to retrain people in the coal value chain is in line with Eskom’s Just Energy Transition drive and SARETEC’s vision to ensure a pipeline of local skills that can respond to economic needs.

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