Power management company Eaton Africa’s operations manager Eugén Ranft won the “Distinguished Industry Award” at the inaugural Africa International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Operations Management.

The award is presented to practitioners recognised by their peers for “making a difference and adding to the lives of others, and contributing and supporting the values, objectives and mission of the engineering profession” says Dr Ahad Ali, executive director at IEOM Society International.

Ranft also presented a keynote address titled “Improving operational efficiency through the use of power management technologies”, focusing on microgrid technology on Thursday morning at the conference.

Ranft is in charge of operations at Eaton’s manufacturing facility in Wadeville, Johannesburg and manages the engineering teams responsible for design, quoting, and delivery of specialised low and medium voltage electrical assemblies.

“Eaton’s growth in Africa is focused on increasing access to energy by delivering reliable, sustainable energy for all,” Ranft says. “We believe microgrid technology will be a key component of a resilient, cost-effective power future for Africa, and the microgrid at our Wadeville campus has given us a glimpse into what is possible.”

Eaton’s microgrid, installed in early 2018, has succeeded in halving the company’s overall electricity costs. The first-of-a-kind microgrid uses second life electric vehicle batteries and a photovoltaic solar installation to increase resilience and support grid stability.

The company states that a similar-sized microgrid could provide energy for 230 small homes. Using renewable energy sources and storage applications significantly lowers consumption and reduces peak charges, resulting in an overall saving of 30% during Summer and 40% during the Winter months for Eaton.

According to the World Bank Group Enterprise Surveys, manufacturing enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa experience power outages for an average of 8,9 days a month, each lasting an average of 5,8 hours. These outages result in firms losing an average of 8,5% of sales revenues, but losses can be as high as 20% where back-up generation is limited.

“In Africa, where millions are still living without modern energy services, communities are increasingly considering microgrid technology as a solution to address energy poverty,” Ranft says. “Ageing infrastructure and grid reliability continue to present significant developmental issues across the region and improving grid reliability will improve business continuity, minimise business losses and improve economic growth.”

The Africa International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Operations Management was hosted by the IEOM Society in Pretoria and ran from 29 October to 1 November 2018.