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Energy News South Africa

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#YouthMonth: Ashanti Mbanga is empowering SA for a sustainable energy future

The South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi) is at the centre of the country’s energy transition and young leaders like project manager Ashanti Mbanga are at the vanguard of this process. In #YouthMonth we caught up with her to discuss her journey in the energy sector, her dedication to youth empowerment, and her vision for a sustainable energy future in South Africa.
Sanedi project manager Ashanti Mbanga
Sanedi project manager Ashanti Mbanga

What inspired your transition from transportation to driving the national energy efficiency project? Was there a gap in the national standards for regulating appliances?

The transition from transportation to energy efficiency was a natural progression, sparked by my work on electrified mobility and exposure to the broader energy sector. South Africa, being an emerging economy, relies heavily on energy for growth, much like transportation.

The national energy efficiency project, particularly the appliance standards and labelling programme, intrigued me due to the significant energy-saving potential in this sector.

Additionally, my interest in local protection regulation and international trade, stemming from my previous work, further motivated me to take on this challenge.

Can you share some of the key achievements of that programme? Are you going to replicate that work in other consumer sectors?

The energy efficiency standards and labeling (S&L) programme has achieved several milestones. We successfully transitioned from a voluntary to a mandatory program, enforcing compliance with minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) and energy efficiency labelling for appliances.

This has maximised energy savings and helped us meet national energy conservation goals. We've also expanded MEPS to include general service lamps and electric motors.

Another significant achievement is the upcoming redesign of the South African Energy Efficiency Label, which is nearing its 10-year anniversary. This redesign is necessary to reflect advancements in technology and higher efficiency levels of modern appliances.

We are also exploring the replication of this success in other sectors, particularly water efficiency. Developing water efficiency labels for plumbing fixtures and water-consuming devices is a promising area of opportunity.

How does your work at Sanedi contribute to creating opportunities in the energy sector for the youth in South Africa?

The S&L programme has a strong focus on awareness creation and capacity building. We actively engage young people by appointing and training them as promoters to educate the public about energy efficiency labels.

Our procurement processes also favour young and female entrepreneurs, fostering collaboration and empowerment

Within Sanedi, I mentor young talents like Motlatsi Litabe and Kwena Matlwa, whose innovative approaches align with our mission.
Sanedi's ongoing internship programme further provides opportunities for young professionals to gain experience and contribute to the energy sector's future.

Could you elaborate on that mentorship programme and how it is shaping the next generation of energy sector professionals?

Our internship program typically spans 12-24 months and targets graduates in various fields, including engineering, economics, science, and management.

We also welcome graduates in supporting functions like legal, communications, and HR. The programme offers a balanced blend of applying academic knowledge to real-world challenges and providing further education and development through tailored plans.

This approach equips interns with the skills and experience needed to thrive in the broader energy sector.

As the vice-chair at the South African Association for Females in Energy Efficiency (SAFEE), how are you promoting gender equality and women empowerment in the energy sector?

SAFEE focuses on promoting and exposing more women to the energy management field through coaching, mentorship, and knowledge sharing.

We encourage our members to advocate for women in the sector and serve as positive role models

Personally, I contribute through workplace mentorship, influencing conversations on key energy platforms, and aligning our actions with the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy's Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Strategy.

Given your background in Transport Economics and your current studies in management, how do you see these fields intersecting with energy efficiency and sustainability?

The globalisation of electric mobility presents an interesting challenge for South Africa, as we currently rely on exports of internal combustion engine vehicles. As international markets shift towards electric vehicles (EVs), we will need to adapt to meet the demands of this convergence between electricity and mobility.

Energy efficiency will play a crucial role in this transition

Households also have a unique opportunity to contribute by generating power from sources like rooftop solar, charging EVs at home and work, and potentially even transferring excess energy back to the grid. This could be revolutionary for a country facing electricity shortages.

While these concepts have been explored in South Africa before, challenges like resistance to change, outdated policies, and uncertainties around energy supply have slowed progress.

However, globalisation may force the necessary changes in the future. Having energy efficiency specialists with diverse backgrounds, including transport economics, will be an asset in navigating these complex issues.

Energy efficiency is a collective responsibility, and we must all strive to use scarce resources wisely.

About Lindsey Schutters

Lindsey is the editor for ICT, Construction&Engineering and Energy&Mining at Bizcommunity
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