Advancing Energy Research in South Africa through SANEDI: Prof. Sampson Mamphweli’s view.


Quick Summary

In this interview with Tony, Sampson Mamphweli, head of the Department of Science and Innovation and Energy Secretariat at SANEDI (South African National Energy Development Institute), discusses the organization’s role in coordinating national research in the energy space, including renewable energy and energy storage. He also highlights the challenges faced by SANEDI in expanding its human capacity and commercializing its intellectual property. Finally, Mamphweli discusses the importance of collaboration and participation in the energy sector, and how SANEDI is using its knowledge to assist South Africa and the African continent in directing new developments in the space.

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TT: Welcome everyone. It is still buzzing here at Africa Energy Indaba. It is good to see people getting back to conferences after COVID. The good thing about conferences is that you get to meet very important people running impressive organisations. Today I want to introduce you to Sampson Mampheweli. Hi Sampson!

SM: Hi Tony.

TT: I know you are the head of department for Science and Innovation and energy Secretariat at Senedi. Pardon me for saying this, I am not sure if a lot of people really appreciate what Sanedi is; because it has been around for around 20 years but still, I would like to find out more.

SM:SANEDI is a state own entity under the National Department of Mineral Resources and Energy. Our role is to coordinate national research in the energy space. We have got various programs and projects that we are leading as SANEDI. One of them is the Energy Secretariat that has been set up by the National Department of Science and Innovation within SANEDI. The idea around SANEDI is that directs, coordinates and conducts national research in the energy space. Out of that research, SANEDI can then use evidence based to advice the national government through the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy; on what technologies are there, how can those technologies be used to improve the quality of life for South Africans and the economic situation of the country. Within SANEDI, I am heading the Energy Secretariat, looking after the Department of Science and Innovation Flagship Programs. As you know, South Africa has got Platinum group metals. These metals are use in the Hydrogen space in electrolysis and fuel cells. The ultimate goal is that we deliver technology localization that then grows the economy and creates jobs. We also have renewable energy programs where we deal with renewable energy research. Here we look at wind and solar energy in terms of forecasting, resource assessment etc.  We also have the energy storage program where we are looking at battery storage facilities coupled with E-mobility.

TT: Excellent. That looks like a wide range of responsibilities. Let me ask you a question, because it seems like you are very much into technology localization. Can you nae one or two companies that benefited from your program and is now doing well commercially that is also entirely South African?

SM: We have a number of companies for example, GeoSUN and GeoWIND that are under one holding company. These two companies have been playing a hug role in the IPP space. Last time I checked they had an annual turn over of plus or minus 10 million Rand which is a very good turnover for a small business. They have established solar based stations across the SADEC region. They do ground measurements while also using satellite measurements. There is also another PV company that emanated from Nelson Mandela University which is also part of our research group called PV Insight. That company assists people with the measurements of performance of PV plans and photovoltaic modules. They have got state of the art equipment that they use to determine the defects on the PV panels. PV Insight works closely with GeoSUN and GeoWIND. There is also a company called the Solar Tatu which emanated from our research activities with the hub. The company is basically deploying containerized solar PV systems in rural areas that are off grid.  There is also another company called High Plat. High Plat is involved in the hydrogen space through hydrogen South Africa, and they are the ones who developed the MEA’s; the membranes used in the fuel cells and electrolysis.  

TT: Your mandate is actually quite wide. So, what are the challenges that you are coming across and how are you solving them?

SM: The biggest challenge I see within SANEDI is still the human capacity. We still need to expand the team for us to be able to deal with the mammoth task that we have been given by the government. There are so many other things that we could do that which we are not doing due too the absence of human resources. When it comes to commercialization, for instance of the IP, we feel like we can do a little bit more. On the Energy Secretariat side, we are now working with the Department of Science and Innovation and the United Kingdom Government have given us some funding through the UK pact to come up with a structure for the Energy Secretariat. We are looking at the International best practice.  It is a process that could take up to 3 to 4 months from now and once we have come up with the structure, we will then be able to hire additional resources. The National Government is prepared to give us money to do so. The technology localization is also a big challenge because you need to have willing partners and willing participants. Part of our commercialization strategy going forwards is technology demonstration. We have deployed around 10 to 15 cells Kilowatt scale across South Africa, and we are also monitoring them.  We want a lot of industry participation which is very difficult to secure but we are working towards that. We must partner with the industry to solve real industry and societal challenges.

TT: You are talking about collaboration, and I was wondering whether that’s the reason you are coming to the Africa Energy Indaba?

SM: Yes. We want to expose what we do as SANEDI South Africa in terms of energy research. We want to forge collaborations with international collaborators; anybody who could be doing similar work in our space. The third reason we are here is that we want to participate and be part of the narrative and use the knowledge we have gathered over the years to try to assist the international community, the African continent and South Africa in particular in terms of directing where the country and the continent should go in terms of new developments in the space.

TT: There are of course some companies listening to you and maybe interested. What is the best way to engage with you and what can they expect from you?

SM: The best way is for them to visit our website. On Google, type SANEDI where you can contact us. You can contact Funalani from the information you will get from the website. There are emails and telephone numbers there. Once you inform him of your area of interest, he will then direct you to the relevant area manager.

TT: I do not reside in South Africa, but I cannot help but to ask, will South Africa solve the load shedding problem and if yes, when?

SM: That is a difficult question although you are asking it to the right person. I have been actively involved in trying to resolve the energy crisis. The president announced the energy action plan. I am one of the many people the president approached based on the knowledge and the skills to say; “Tell us what we can do to solve this energy crisis?” We made contributions which are on the energy action plan. From where we are seated, when we look at the projections, we can safely say that we will see a decline in load shedding in the next 12 months or so and the end of load shedding in the next 24 months or so.

TT: That is excellent. Thank you very much Mamphweli and it was a pleasure. I am looking forward to seeing the resolve benefit not just South Africa but Africa as a whole.

SM: It is actually the whole world. Remember the International community invest in South Africa; and load shedding erodes their industries.

TT: Excellent. Thank you very much.

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