In October 2017, Andrew Payne, a 2011 chemical engineering graduate, was hosted by the Chemical Engineering’s Visiting Engineer Programme which brings experienced engineers into the department to provide technical input in their areas of expertise to undergraduate courses and to speak to students about their experiences in the workplace.
Andrew started his career as a consultant, working for McKinsey & Company where he was able to take advantage of experience in a wide range of industries and geographies, and learn from a diverse set of peers and clients. He spent time on projects in Australia before joining GreenCape, a Western Cape Government Sector Development Agency, following which he joined Tesla’s Energy Products team for Africa, where he is the senior sales engineer and is part of the sales and operations team based in Cape Town.
In his presentation to the 1st Year class, Andrew drew on his experience at McKinsey in maximising efficiency and effectiveness in the use of everyday tools such as MS Excel. Since the majority of graduate engineers use spreadsheets as their primary tool of analysis, the use of core functions, shortcuts and other time-saving “tricks” is critical to their workplace efficiency. In the space of a single lecture, Andrew was able to show the students a range of the most common techniques – as well as indicating where they could learn more.
In his time with the 4th Year class, a group on the verge of the workplace, Andrew shifted the focus to career-path possibilities and how to make maximum use of the opportunities available. Again, he was able to use his own trajectory as a model of possible paths – as well as supplying students with more intricate details in the Q&A session that followed.
Finally, during the meridian, Andrew gave an open seminar to staff and students, discussing energy storage applications against the backdrop of the energy landscape in South Africa. Andrew said that today, if you drive an electric car on the South African grid, it is slightly cleaner than a petrol car, but not by much because of the current power mix. South Africa needs to change the generation mix to include renewables.
The South African grid is presently made up of large centralised power generation, large transmission and distribution infrastructure, and homes where power gets supplied. In the future, most grids will look different – with some mix of distributed generation. Grid operators will need to be smarter, electrify fleets for transport, and have a more dynamic mix of renewable generation.
Andrew said that the question for South Africa is what this will look like in the next three to five to ten years. The problem for a lot of grids is that solar and energy storage will get cheaper than the traditional generation, and this needs to be managed while avoiding a utility death spiral. As a consumer, you can potentially put solar on your roof and store your energy at less than the cost of your grid electricity. However, this will push up the cost for those still on the grid, and this is a big challenge that faces grids around the world.
This is combined, in a lot of other African countries, with the need still to electrify huge swatches of their land and populations. This is, at once, an incredible challenge and opportunity, as many African countries can jump straight to a smarter, more flexible grid if they can approach this challenge willingly and creatively.
The Department of Chemical Engineering is part of the Faculty of Engineering & the Built Environment (EBE) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.