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The Energy Post-Graduate Conference 2013 (EPC 2013) was held at iThemba LABS in Cape Town in August. The conference was co-ordinated by the NRF through its Applied Research, Innovation and Collaboration (ARIC) Directorate and iThemba LABS, one of its national research facilities. This year’s theme centred on South Africa’s research and human capital imperatives.
Originally the SANHARP Conference, the event, which is now held every two years, has taken a re-focused approach through the Energy Human Capital Development and Knowledge Generation (E-HCD&KG) Programme to provide post-graduate researchers in both the renewable and nuclear energy sectors a platform for realising opportunities and developing industry experience as well as to enable graduates, academia and industry to network with each other.
One of the Department of Science and Technology’s priorities is to develop and grow the country’s energy human capital. This was done by merging its renewable HCD programmes with those of nuclear energy to form the E-HCD&KG Programme. The long term view is to deliver on capacity building and research and development initiatives for and in partnership with the energy sector in South Africa. This evolved programme has, over the years, built strong partnerships with other stakeholders from the sector including, among others, the Department of Energy, South African Nuclear Energy Corporation, Mintek and iThemba LABS who play various roles in the development, experiential training and employment of these learners and students. One of the key platforms for ensuring continued interaction among energy stakeholders is the Energy Post-Graduate Conference.
This year, more than 360 delegates from a cross-section of energy sector organisations attended the conference, including 140 students, of which the majority are sponsored by the E-HCD&KG Programme, as well as more than 85 researchers from South Africa, Kenya and as far afield as Beijing, China. Speakers at the conference included retired physicist, Dr Don Mingay; Chairperson of parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Energy, Sisa Njikelana and Mr Zizamele Mbambo, Deputy Director General: Nuclear from the Department of Energy. In addition, 19 universities and 12 sector organisations including the Technology Innovation Agency and the South African National Energy Development Institute were represented.
Some of the cross-cutting topics covered at the conference’s panel discussions included the energy mix within the SA energy landscape; the role of women and youth within the energy landscape; and science communication and engagement. The latter also forms an important component of the conference which was also attended by more than 600 Grade 10 learners who were introduced to energy concepts at the conference’s Energy Experience Centre, allowed them to meet role-models, see the extent of the infrastructure available at iThemba LABS, and become aware of the career opportunities within the nuclear and renewable energy sectors.
An exhibition also formed part of EPC 2013, profiling 12 organisations working within the energy sector and providing attendees with practical exposure to key stakeholders. The exhibition also included a showcase by the winners of the Research and Innovation category of the 2013 Department of Energy’s Learner Focus Week. The learners, who hail from Focus High School in the Eastern Cape, were awarded full bursaries sponsored by the E-HCD&KG Programme.
The conference ended on a high note with NRF CEO, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld delivering the closing address in which he encouraged the students as emerging researchers and engineers to continue their excellent work in contributing to knowledge generation and technology advancement in the energy sector. Afterwards, academic awards recognising excellence were made to E-HCD&KG Programme post-graduate students and winners of the EPC 2013 Best Presenter and Poster Competition.