Accredited wind energy training facility the South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC) has become a Global Wind Organisation- (GWO-) certified training facility, and can now offer the GWO Basic Safety Training (BST) and Basic Technical Training (BTT) qualifications to wind turbine service technicians.
SARETEC MD Naim Rassool says the GWO developed common industry training and best practice standards – culminating in four-day courses targeted at new and existing technicians – earlier this year for health and safety to reduce risks for on-site personnel and environmental risks across the sector.
The BST certification will need to be renewed every two years, while the six-day BTT certification is not necessarily aimed at service technicians, but rather staff who accompany and assist technicians.
According to the GWO, this accreditation has been developed in response to the demand for recognisable BTT in industry, and has been prepared in cooperation with GWO members based on risk assessments, as well as factual incident and accident statistics pertaining to the installation, service and maintenance of wind turbine generators and wind power plants.
Rassool explains that the GWO courses will be offered next year.
The WTST Qualification
The formal wind turbine service technician (WTST) qualification programme is offered by SARETEC every six months. Rassool notes that the seven-month programme comprises five months training at the SARETEC premises and two months of on-the-job training at a wind farm.
The next training programme will start in February 2018. Only qualified trade artisans with a national qualification framework (NQF) certification from an accredited technical and vocational education and training institution can apply. “Applicants will have to have an NQF Level 4 qualification in trades such as electromechanics, electrical or electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, mechatronics or qualified fitters and turners.”
Moreover, applicants are expected to be in good health, and some applicants may be excluded on the basis of a medical examination. “Technicians will need to be able to work at height. This means that they can neither have a fear of heights nor be susceptible to spells of vertigo. Obviously, those with physical disabilities – whether hearing, sight, or limb-related – would be precluded purely because of the safety aspect.”
SARETEC typically receives over 100 applicants for the WTST programme but only 30 applicants are shortlisted – chosen on the strength of their applications and their medical examination – for interviews. Thereafter, SARETEC chooses the final 12 to 15 applicants.
He points out that the vast majority of the applicants who are accepted for the programme are sponsored by private companies. However, he expects that most of the students for February 2018 will be supported by funding received from stage two of the South African Wind Energy Programme – an initiative implemented by the Department of Energy, funded by international environmental organisations and aimed at developing the local wind energy sector.
He explains that the bursaries will pay for the entire course, as well as provide a stipend of between R6 000 and R10 000 for accommodation and meals. “This is necessary because a lot of the trainees are from rural areas surrounding Cape provinces, or from outside of the Western Cape.”
Rassool notes that SARETEC also offers short course modules for continuous learning purposes or for individuals who (for reasons such as cost or time) cannot apply for the WTST programme.
“The course has been structured in such a way that an artisan can become a qualified WTST, if they are able to complete all the required modules, thereby gaining credits, until they complete the WTST programme.”
He notes that the WTST programme has been offered since January 2016 and SARETEC has trained between 50 to 60 technicians. The short courses will be available next year, with a training timetable published on the SARETEC website by early February.
Wind Energy Outlook
Rassool notes that, within the global and African context, based on research by the Global Wind Energy Council as well as the International Renewable Energy Agency, the wind energy sector is growing rapidly.
There are two main factors driving this growth – the global shift towards sustainable, green efficient energy, which primarily resulted from the resolutions and commitments made by governments following the twenty-first Conference of the Parties, held in Paris in December 2015; and the rapidly decreasing cost of wind energy.
Rassool says wind power is the most cost-effective form of power generation in most countries.
Citing constraints facing the local and African industries, Rassool notes that government policies – which are mostly favourable towards renewable-energy installations, but are not necessarily implemented consistently or as successfully as they could be – and government stipulations regarding the localisation of technology are potential pitfalls in terms of wind energy investment.