Programme Director (DSI Director General, Dr Phil Mjwara);

MEC of Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism (Hon Mlungisi Mvoko);

Chair of the South African National Energy Development Institute Board (Mr Nkululeko Buthelezi);

Vice Rector: Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies at Stellenbosch University (Prof Eugene Cloete);

Chief Executive Officer of SolarTurtle (Ms Lungelwa Tyali);

Chief Executive Officer of the South African National Energy Development Institute;

CEOs of the Wholesale and Retail SETA and the Energy and Water SETA, Mr Tom Mkhwanazi and Ms Mpho Mookapele

Representatives from Business and Industry;

Government officials;

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

 

It gives me great pleasure to be here today to be addressing you during this significant occasion. I must start by congratulating all those involved in this project for a wonderful product and invention!

 

Our resolve as South Africa to be at the cutting edge of science, technology and innovation, as outlined in our National Development Plan, is being shown through this project we are launching today.

 

It may seem small for now, but is a potentially huge game changer in our energy space. In addition, it is a good example of how science, technology and innovation (STI) contributes to changing lives of ordinary people, including supporting sustainable livelihoods.

 

The launch of this project could not have come at a better time, when the world and our country are faced with the Covid 19 pandemic.

 

It is a time that requires generation of more innovative ideas and solutions as we seek to save both lives and livelihoods. Alternative sources of energy are an absolute necessity both in the here and now and going into the future.

 

Some might ask, but what is the relationship between Covid 19 and energy (or alternative sources of energy)? There is, and a very strong one at that.

 

Scientific evidence shows that there most pandemics like Ebola and other corona viruses are generated by global warming and the destruction of our natural environment, including climate change and deforestation.

 

In order to minimize chances for emergence of new future pandemics, we need to protect our environment. Alternative and renewable sources of energy, like solar and hydrogen-based sources of energy, are precisely what we need to prevent the world and its life from being destroyed by pandemics in future.

 

The advantage of technologies like those we are launching today is that they are aimed at making alternative and renewable energy to be available to ordinary people, the workers and poor in our country including the rural areas.

 

Renewable energy must not only be accessible to the wealthy and better off in society, it must be accessible to all. That is why I strongly believe that a public company like Eskom must position itself to play a leading role in this space.

 

Given the context of today’s occasion, I would therefore like to continue along the lines of my introductory remarks, by focusing on how science, technology and innovation ((STI) may provide some of the solutions to sustainable and inclusive economic development.

 

In an innovation-led economic growth and development strategy, the key challenge is that of addressing what is sometimes referred to as the  “Innovation Chasm”.

 

In simple terms, this means addressing and removing the barriers that slows down and in some cases prevents the movement of ideas and inventions from the laboratory into products that play a crucial role in the productive economy, including in the commercial section of our economy.

 

This is a challenge that South Africa has long identified and our President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa wants to address by focusing our department, DSI, even more on innovation, and by bringing together the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Department of Science and Innovation under one Ministry. This is aimed at closely aligning our skills development and innovation strategies much closer together in order to facilitate an innovation-led economic growth and development strategy. We must make full use of this space to take further and strengthen initiatives like the one we are launching today.

 

Allow me to make a quick example of how this new higher education, science and innovation landscape can be exploited in the context of this project.

 

I had a few years ago requested the Wholesale and Retail SETA to launch a training programme, using metal containers to train youth in fixing cellphones and electric appliances in the townships and villages rather than taking these to towns and cities.

 

Now this source of renewable energy is an obvious partner for such a project, especially in areas with no electricity, but also as an alternative source of energy for such initiatives. Within this context we can also access and partner with both the W&R SETA and the Energy and Water SETA to expand skills development initiatives to support access to alternative sources of energy, as in water provision.

 

Let all the entities in my two departments exploit these opportunities, including of course involvement of our technical and vocational education training colleges (TVET) in such initiatives, as some of our universities are already involved.

 

By the way is it not time that we empower our TVET colleges, in partnership with industry, that we start training green artisans and other mid-level skills in the value chain of the green economy spew seek to build.

 

The story of DSI renewable energy portfolio indicates how government investments (financial and otherwise may yield important products and results.

 

According to the Renewables 2020 Global Status Report, renewable energy had another record-breaking year in 2019 (pre covid-19 pandemic), as installed power capacity grew more than 200 gigawatts (GW) – its largest increase ever.

 

Capacity installations and investment continued to spread to all corners of the world, and distributed renewable energy systems provided additional households in developing and emerging countries with access to electricity and clean cooking services. This has been, amongst others, driven by ongoing cost reductions in accessing some renewable energy technologies.

 

Despite this, the impact or progress is still limited in our African continent. As the 2016 Africa Power Roadmap indicates, more than 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity, and that approximately 32% of the population have access to modern energy services. 

 

Of sub-Saharan Africa’s 49 countries, only eight (8) countries have more than 60% of the population with access to energy services. The eight countries are Botswana, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Mauritius, Seychelles and South Africa.

 

Based on the Integrated Resource Plan of 2019 which calls for 8.8 Gigawatts of solar energy by 2030 (to date we still at approximately 30%of this target), South Africa continues on a journey towards a cleaner national energy system.

 

This was made possible through informed policy making and using various appropriate tools including solar energy resource atlas. It is a well-known fact that the South African Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Program attracted approximately two hundred billion (200 billion) of investment into the South African economy.

 

I am glad to learn that a spin off company (GeoSun) from a government initiated programme (Renewable Energy Hub and Spokes) has been instrumental in assisting at least three solar energy companies by providing solar irradiation data which is key in determining bankability and reaching financial close.

 

This facilitation of investments into our economy and the work they do in the rest of the continent would assist in unlocking the continent’s potential.

 

The other points that comes out of today’s session and the main reason we are all here, are at least two things, the relevance of our universities to assisting to resolve socio-economic challenges and the need for entrepreneurial orientation in our society so that we stimulate the economy.  

 

On the development of skills by academia, through the National Research Foundation the country continues to develop the skilled/knowledge workers that can generate new ideas and knowledge. I am pleased to indicate that the significant portion of the NRF budget to date goes towards Human Capital Development initiatives.

 

The South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARCHi) and the Centres of Excellence initiative are establishing a number of these instruments to deal with the development of new knowledge and requisite skills. It should be noted that this is a fraction of investments made by the Department of Higher Education and Training in skills development, and therefore in making use of the new Higher Education, Science and Innovation landscape a lot more can be done.

 

The journey of SolarTurtle started because of government’s commitment to providing the bursary support in renewable energy. But at the same time I am also thinking as to how we can align this work with the TVET College Centres of Specialisation Programme as well as the education and training capacity funded by the DHET on alternative sources of energy at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

 

What this points to is that we need more innovation in the management and realignment in the HESI landscape.

 

This story of the Solar Turtle can only serve to strengthen our commitment to an economy and development driven by the twin imperatives of skills development and innovation. But this also gives impetus to increase efforts to empower youth as well pointing to the benefits of the integration on entrepreneurship into the curriculum of engineering and science faculties, including at TVET colleges.  

 

Our Renewable Energy RDI Programmes are not just producing the next generation of scientists and engineers for the workforce but the next generation of business leaders and public sector managers and policy experts.

 

The second point is on strengthening public private partnerships in this space, including the creation of new industries and companies.

 

This is evident that the policy framework that government has provided facilitates the NSI to innovate – the Integrated Resource Plan, Solar Energy Technology Roadmap and White Paper on Science, Innovation and Technology, are to ensure inclusive development and growth.

 

The niche identified by SolarTurtle team of capacitating the informal economic sector (hawkers, traders) in business management through the point of sales management system, is one of the key steps towards facilitating the journey towards formalised businesses. Also the ability to use mobile energy supply solutions to improve access to internet connectivity will assist the country in ensuring that the marginalised are part of the transition towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

 

SolarTurtle Pty (Ltd), a spin-off company from the DSI’s funded Renewable Energy Hub and Spokes Research Programme, developed a mobile modular solar PV system with battery storage, termed the BabyTurtle.

 

This micro solar kiosk is able to provide power, a router to enable internet connection and point of sales management systems for micro-enterprises. Three versions (coming in different sizes) of the BabyTurtle solution have been developed, namely the suitcase, bicycle trailer and motor trailer.  

 

I am informed that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SolarTurtle and the new BabyTurtle technology products, which use solar PV technology, battery storage, wifi hot spots can be deployed to support emergency situations. 

 

I would like to encourage the team to continue identifying the opportunities for application of the BabyTurtle during and after the covid-19 pandemic.

 

Lastly, I am pleased to note that in January 2020, the SolarTurtle technology was named one of the most exciting South African inventions over the past ten years by Business Insider South Africa.  The Department commends SolarTurtle (Pty) Ltd in this regard.

 

This launch is an opportunity to showcase the technology to key stakeholders that investment made by the country in research, development and innovation has led to positive outcomes and that the Solar Energy Research work is transitioning from just an R&D initiative to a manufacturing initiative that can support South Africa’s aspirations to localise renewable energy technologies.

 

In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the team at SolarTurtle in their efforts to partner with academia and government to ensure that one of the inventions under the Renewable Energy RDI Programmes has been successful in making it to the market.  But lastly to officially launch the latest range of SolarTurtle products, the three BabyTurtles.

 

Thank you.