Powering the Future: Industry Leaders Unite to Revolutionise Electricity and Water Sectors through Tech and Automation

19 May 2023

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Africa Automation Technology Fair 2023, co-located with the inaugural InfoSecurity Africa 2023, concludes 

Energy and water security remain top concerns in South Africa and were among prevalent themes at the 12th Africa Automation Technology Fair (AATF) and inaugural InfoSecurity Africa conference, held at the Gallagher Convention Centre last week.

The events featured 50 global countries, 18 of which were African, bringing together the latest in automation and technology by leading public and private stakeholders, large businesses, entrepreneurs, and small businesses, to drive industry development.

“This year’s theme was For Africa from Africa with the fundamental transformation of the electricity sector and the future of water supply high on the agenda,” said Carol Weaving, Managing Director at RX Africa, noting a 20% increase in attendees compared to the previous show. “Over 500 meetings were conducted by our hosted African industry decision makers, solidifying thousands of business connections.” 

Media personality, Aki Anastasiou opened the AATF by show of hands – with 50% of attendees looking to solar power solutions this year. Unsurprising as loadshedding continues and any improvements at Eskom are only likely to bear fruit in a few years’ time, provided they are prioritised now; guest speaker, Chris Yelland, Managing Director of EE Business Intelligence said we can’t afford to waste any more time. South Africans should take ownership of their own electricity supply. He believes it’s through banding together to each do our part, that we can solve our electricity shortfall. 

Third-party electricity trader presence is a global trend that South Africa should follow to tackle loadshedding. BRICS neighbour, Brazil has some 150 traders, while South Africa only has four. Yelland believes electricity traders will become an important part of the evolution from just the single buyer, Eskom, to having various buyers looking to procure electricity.

The recent tax incentives on solar are more in favour of businesses than individuals, but either way, installation is still a cost to factor in. Owner of QTek Instrumentation, Jacques Shaw and show exhibitor said loadshedding affects his business, costing money and manhours working around Eskom’s schedules.

Yelland felt that improving incentives would encourage a mass roll-out of rooftop solar installations that would lead to a surplus of cheap energy. “The more people who install rooftop solar, the better the outcome for all.” 

Doing what it takes in the present to reach a better, livable future was a firm narrative across AATF. According to Dr. Anthony Turton, Professor at the Centre for Environment Management at the University of the Free State, South Africa could have made plans for sustainable water infrastructure years ago, and “the longer the delay, the bigger the catastrophe.”

Water is an economic enabler, but South Africa is struggling to sustain the engineering talent needed to stabilise and futureproof the system. According to Turton, our economy has been water constrained for at least two decades; in 2002 98% of South Africa’s water was allocated. Recalibrated projections and changing rainfall patterns due to climate change see less water available than predicted. He confirmed we need to reuse every drop of water in South Africa 1.65 times by 2035 to ensure sufficient supply – a doable target if we act quickly. A fourth hydraulic machine will be needed to bring this vision to life. 

Smart technology can solve many problems and the events inspired attendees to imagine the possibilities.  Dave Wibberley, Managing Director of Mitsubishi Electric – Factory Automation in Sub-Saharan Africa was among guest speakers at InfoSecurity Africa. By leaning on automation, he says manufacturing processes can be simplified requiring less manual input. This makes the case for the use of ‘cobots’ in the workplace. A cobot is a collaborative robot that works closely with humans to save time, money and reduce safety risks.

Intelligent automation could be the most significant driver of productivity gains over the next five years. MarketsandMarkets data estimates the global intelligent automation market in manufacturing to reach $16.7 billion by 2026, a significant increase on $5.6 billion in 2020. Accenture reports that intelligent automation has the potential to ease manufacturing operational costs by 25%, while a McKinsey study found it can increase productivity by 20%. 

Sean Ammon, Founder and MD at CIBA (Africa & Europe) echoed this potential stating that companies with advanced automation programs will “obliterate, not merely beat competition”, so it’s important to ensure that automation projects are pushed over the line, despite some 80% of opportunities reportedly getting stuck in the planning phase. 

Terence Singh, Director at Ruhi Consulting spoke about AI being best suited to tasks that require problem solving, usually offering fast, repetitive output. Generative AI is more creative and presents new output, which we can’t yet predict. The capacity to change the game through using technology and automation is astounding. 

“AATF has always been one of the OMRON Automation Sub- Saharan Africa’s cornerstone exhibitions that we as a company love attending. It allows us to showcase our product offering to our new potential customers and current clients. It is a great platform to showcase our solutions-based technology specifically for the Food and Commodities, Pharmaceutical and Medical, as well as the Automotive Industries,” added Cezanne Gonsior, Regional Marketing Manager, Sub- Saharan AfricaX.

“The shows this year were bursting with inspiration as innovation continues to reshape our views on the future. Our advisory board shared invaluable contributions that have played a crucial role in shaping the show's success, whilst our association partners the SAIMC and SACAC generously shared their extensive knowledge and expertise at the show. An abundance of business opportunities and matches were made, and we look forward to the next installment,” RX Africa’s Weaving concludes.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter