Tuesday, 22 November 2011

South Africa’s first local wind turbine manufacturer to create hundreds of green jobs

13 Nov 2011

With COP17 around the corner, the debate around green versus carbon energy is heating up. Some say that if the South African government would genuinely commit to renewable energy, it could kill two birds with one stone: curbing our nation's carbon footprint and paving the way for thousands of new, sustainable jobs. Various research reports over time have shown that the renewable energy industry has massive job creation potential, especially in developing countries.

A good example is the South African Energy Sector Jobs in 2030, published by Greenpeace Africa late last year. According to the researchers, 78,000 permanent and full-time jobs could be created in the next 20 years if renewable energy such as solar and wind becomes more mainstream. Focusing on carbon, including coal fired power plants, would see the creation of only 46.000 jobs. If green energy equipment such as wind turbines and solar panels were manufactured in SA instead of being imported from China and the EU, the number of employment opportunities would climb to 111,700.

Thomas Schaal, founder of SA's first wind turbine manufacturer, agrees with the findings above and is determined to put them into practice. While Isivunguvungu Wind Energy Converter (I-WEC) opened shop only last month and is employing just over two-dozen permanent staff, the number of workers is expected to increase by 700% in the next five years. In the process, the company expects to create hundreds of indirect jobs.

"At the moment we have 30 employees, including engineers, electricians, mechanics, and admin staff", Schaal explained. "In the meantime, we have created about 60 indirect jobs. According to our research, we could create two indirect jobs for every direct employment opportunity, for instance on our suppliers' side". "In the next five years, we aim to create between 300 and 400 full-time direct jobs, as well as 900 to 1,200 indirect employment opportunities", Schaal continued.

These predictions are based on the company's production forecast. While this year's production stands at just one 2.5 MW turbine, I-WEC is expected to manufacture five units next year. "After that, we will increase production to 50 units in 2013, 100 in 2014 and hopefully 200 in 2015", Schaal explained, stressing that 60% to 70% of the wind turbine components will be manufactured or sourced locally. "We are the first company to do so in SA, beating the big players like Siemens and Vestas who are importing their turbines", he noted.

One of the factors that could make or break I-WEC's job creation potential is the extent of the local demand for wind turbines. That is where the government should come in, Schaal said: "Apart from an environmental aspect, the South African government should push the green energy sector because it is labour intensive and has the potential to create thousands of much-needed jobs". He added that he could export the turbines to other parts of Africa: "While we initially want to focus on the South African market, our license allows us to export to other countries too".

I-WEC currently operates from a workshop in Cape Town's harbour, but plans to move to Saldanha sometime next year. "We have procured a piece of land there", Schaal explained. "The reason for moving is that we will have more space in Saldanha. Our turbines are 80 meters tall, and the blades are 50 meters long. We need space", he continued. "In addition, it makes sense to move to the west coast, it is after all this region that has been identified as a wind power hot spot".