Universities’ loadshedding webinar yields a Working Group to help institutions set up energy initiatives

Published On: 27 July 2023|

A Working Group has been established to draw up a framework that will enable the higher education sector to set up alternative energy projects in response to the energy crisis playing out in nationwide loadshedding. This was one of the key outcomes of the Loadshedding Webinar, hosted by Universities South Africa (USAf), on 21 July and attended by 67 delegates representing its membership.

The Group comprises:

  • Dr Andrḗ Hefer, Sustainability Engineer at Nelson Mandela University;
  • Mr Manfred Braune, Director: Environmental Sustainability at the University of Cape Town (UCT);
  • Mr Nicolaas Esterhuysen, Director of Engineering Services at the University of the Free State (UFS);
  • Mr Ajesh Aheer, Sustainability and Utilities Manager at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN);
  • Professor Ian Lazarus, Manager of the KZN Industrial Energy Efficient Training and Resource (IEETR)Centreat the Durban University of Technology (DUT);
  • Mr Nadeem Gafieldien, Director of Property Services at Stellenbosch University and immediate past president at Higher Education Facilities Management Association of Southern Africa (Hefma),
  • Mr Tshiamo Moleme, Director: Infrastructure Support at the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET); and
  • Dr Lawrence Pratt, Principal Researcher of Solar Photovoltaics (PV) at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – co-opted as a consultant.

At the suggestion of Mr Kishore Gobardan, Executive Director for Institutional Planning and Governance at UKZN, a technical forum, which he would coordinate, would also be established, to meet once a quarter.

As the next steps, universities must submit energy management strategies to the DHET by September. Gobardan said the Working Group had a few weeks to work on the framework, which would give universities about a month to refine their plans and make the deadline.

“Funding is a concern. I think I speak for everyone when I say that. If government can facilitate partnerships for external funding, that would be useful,” he said.

Mr Moleme, representing the DHET, welcomed the establishment of the working group. He said contrary to a previous expectation that the department would provide a framework, he thought that framework was better drafted by experts from the CSIR.

Webinar objectives met

Mr Mahlubi Mabizela (left), USAf’s Director of Operations and Sector Support, said the webinar had met its objectives.  He also noted that whereas some institutions already had energy plans, others did not, or were in a process of developing them. “Some universities may not have in-house expertise, hence the lag,” he said.

He said USAf was not blind to unique circumstances of each of its member institutions – notwithstanding that all offered teaching and learning, and research. In that context, the webinar had aimed to establish some form of coordination among all institutions, to enable sector-wide support.

He said he could not over-emphasise how “captivating and informative” the presentations by Dr Pratt, Dr Hefer and Mr Esterhuysen had been, and the discussions they had generated.

In addition to learning new technical facts, he had personally benefitted from hearing first -hand “what is happening at our individual institutions, who have had to put in measures so that teaching and learning can continue uninterrupted. I was also wondering how much loadshedding is affecting programming at institutions, and timetabling. I am sure certain exams have had to be shifted. So, it’s not just about classes but attendance and the whole gamut that affects the programming.”

Mabizela said sharing technical expertise would be a big help to institutions. Having just discovered Hefma and their conference coming up at UFS in October, he said it would be a good idea for USAf to work with them, to access additional expertise.

In conclusion, Mabizela could not rule out the possibility of another webinar — possibly even before the deadline for university submissions to the DHET. He added that for now, “we have something substantial to work from.” He was especially referring to the Working Group just set up.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa.