An overview of the South African energy sector

March 5th, 2018, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Energize

The following article is compiled from a speech Chris Yelland, the MD of EE Publishers, gave to the South African Bureau of Standards’ (SABS’) SDA Workshop recently.

Chris Yelland

The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) is meant to provide some direction for the energy sector to financiers, industrialists, manufacturers and suppliers regarding the way ahead up to 2020. But the IRP is still in limbo. Has the Cabinet approved it? Will new political change affect the IRP? Will there be a change in policy? Ultimately, will the IRP change?

We hope so, because from what we heard at the Energy Indaba in early December 2017, just prior to the ANC elective conference, the supposedly cabinet-approved IRP is fundamentally irrational. Which energy sources will be included in the mix for new generation capacity?

Surely the final IRP will impact the future work priorities of SABS Standards committees? I have a feeling this conference was called on the assumption that the new “irrational” IRP was finalised and approved by Cabinet and would provide some certainty.

But has it been finalised and approved? It would seem not, and the uncertainty continues.

Futuristic technology priorities

The old stuff is coal, hydro and nuclear. The new technologies are renewable energy, rooftop solar PVs, energy storage technologies, hydrogen, fuel cells, electric vehicles, distributed generation, mini and micro grids, DC transmission and distribution, smart metering, energy efficiency and energy management, ICT, artificial intelligence.

We can expect a move in standards from products to systems. But we do not have to reinvent the wheel with futuristic vision. The IEC standards organisation has done a lot of futuristic studies on the subject. We only have to join the bus and make our selections. South Africa is not isolated but is part of the world of standards.

Standards, test and certification, regulation

The integrated past we know was built with tax payers’ money to serve the needs of industry and the public. We also understand the rationale of the present ring-fenced arrangement between SABS Standards, SABS Commercial and NRCS.

But there is a common shareholder – the state, represented by the Department of Trade and Industry (the DTI). The developmental role of standards, test and certification, and regulation remains, and these silos cannot be dealt with in isolation, because they are significantly interrelated and interdependent, and so it is important to consider the following proposals.

Standards issues

We should not reinvent the wheel, we do not have the technical and human resources for this. Rather, adapt international standards to local conditions without starting from scratch. Standards must be viewed as a repository of practical knowledge and experience. It would be helpful to introduce standards and the work of the local and global standards communities into technical education at universities and colleges. Improve participation by government and government agencies (NERSA, DoE, DoL, DMR, DTI, DST and others) in standard committees. Improve industry participation in the standards committees and working groups. Provide recognition of the people involved on committees and working groups, and make all South African national standards available, with open access, from an online SABS repository, up to date, and free of charge.

Test and certification issues

The organisation needs to decide whether this is a commercial service or a developmental service. Where is South Africa in the developmental s-curve? Was it too early to adopt the ways of the West? Determine the role of private sector test houses vs. that of state owned facilities like SABS Commercial, SABS Test House, SAMS Mark Scheme. Funding, investment and maintenance; as well as staffing, skills development and transformation all need to be addressed. Ensure that the organisation serves the needs of local industry and manufacturers. In that regard, determine the value and advantages of partial and full testing, and the relevance and value of the SABS Mark Scheme to manufacturers and the public.

Regulatory and enforcement issues

The NRCS needs to be adequately resourced so that it can improve its visibility, and strengthen its role and effectiveness


The importance of standards and standardisation cannot be overstated. However, the organisation needs to engage with all stakeholders, industry, manufacturers, customers, suppliers, staff, media and the public. It needs to be more outward looking and customer focused. So well done and strength to you in this new and most welcome initiative.

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