Schneider Electric is a global specialist in energy management and automation that promotes sustainable development and access to clean energy. Edouard Heripret is the General Manager for the company in East Africa, The Kenya Engineer team had a chat with him on the role of the company in the Energy Industry in East Africa.
Tell us who you are. (introduction & professional background)
My name is Edouard Heripret. I’m French living in Kenya for more than 2 years now. I have been working with Schneider Electric for the past nine years in different regions and in different capacities driving the company’s strategy. I am passionate about Energy Management and matters relating to Access to Energy.
What do you oversee at Schneider Electric as the MD?
Today, I’m the General Manager of Schneider Electric East Africa. The headquarter of Schneider Electric in the region is here in Nairobi and we cover ten countries. We have a quite unique setup in East Africa with offices in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. In Nairobi, we have a factory where we manufacture different types of equipment like solar containerised solutions, distribution boards, consumer units and many more in our range of products dedicated for the market in East Africa. We are the only ones in the industry with these production capabilities in this region.
In addition to this, we have a solution centre with people dedicated to design, engineering, tendering, project management as well as a service team for testing, installation, commissioning and the entire after sales support.
We also have a warehouse where we stock some equipment for our partners or our own use.
Tell us about Schneider Electric. (Brief history of the company’s presence in Kenya)
Schneider Electric has been in existence for more than 180 years. It’s a French company despite the name sounding German. It employs over 150,000 people across the world with an annual turnover of over 25 Million Euros. Our story in East Africa started more than 30 years ago through Power Technics and we accelerated our presence in the region through the acquisition of our partner 4 years ago. Since then, we have continued developing the company, launching new offers in the market and opening new branches in the region. We have a plan to keep on opening new branches in the region with the main base being in Nairobi, Kenya.
What products, services and solutions do you offer/provide?
Schneider Electric is a technology provider. We the global specialist in Energy Management and Automation. This is our core business.
We combine our products with world-leading energy technologies, real-time automation, software and services into integrated solutions for Homes, Buildings, Data Centers, Infrastructure and Industries. As you know the big revolution in the market in connectivity, what we call the Internet of Things and here in Kenya, we see a big trend or a big need for customers to move towards this kind of new technology for them to better operate their assets, be it in a building, a factory or even the home setting.
Our leading innovation, EcoStruxure, allows us to offer our customers just that. It is an open, interoperable, IoT-enabled system architecture and platform. It delivers enhanced value around safety, reliability, efficiency, sustainability, and connectivity for customers. EcoStruxure leverages advancements in IoT, mobility, sensing, cloud, analytics, and cybersecurity to deliver Innovation at every level. This includes Connected Products, Edge Control, and Apps, Analytics & Services.
Our solutions span across various segments from Food and Beverage, Banking and Finance, Mining Metal and Minerals, Water and Waste Water, Oil and Gas and so on.
What are the biggest challenges your company has faced doing business in Kenya so far?
One challenge is the high cost of doing business in Kenya. We have seen the gradual increase in the price of energy making the overall cost of doing business increase over the last two years thus impacting the overall business operations. Consequently, customers are beginning to look for solutions that will reduce the cost of their electricity and we are supporting them in this journey by providing an integrated system to measure their energy consumption in real time for them to start optimising it with more efficiency.
Secondly, Kenya is a market which is highly price sensitive. At Schneider we position ourselves as a premium service provider. The challenge for us is to continuously educate on the Standards that govern our offers in terms of efficiency and safety for the benefit of the customers.
Earlier this year, Kenya hosted the 3rd One Planet Summit in Nairobi. What lesson can the country and Africa at large get from this summit as far as renewable energy is concerned?
I personally attended the summit few months ago, and Africa and the country at large needs to be committed to climate change as it is projected that 65% of the African population is directly impacted by climate change. Providing electricity using renewables to provide electricity to the 1 billion people worldwide without energy access has the potential to create millions of good jobs, however despite increasing demand, a shortage of the skilled workforce needed to deliver electricity access is large and growing.
Schneider Electric is accelerating its ambition and commitments for climate by helping its customer to avoid 100 M tons of CO2 emissions thanks to cleantech Microgrid solutions. The range of Microgrid solutions available at Schneider provide energy of off-grid areas such as schools, health centres, business centres and market places and generally an option to rural electrification.
Microgrid solutions allow renewable energy to be decentralized to the mass population. If you look at the size of the African continent, it will need to develop the equivalent of the existing grid in USA, China, Europe and India altogether to give access to electricity to everybody in Africa, which is of course very costly and will also take a lot of time to develop. But the good news is that today with microgrid technology, it is possible to decentralise renewable energy to where it is needed. I liken this to the telecommunication industry where instead of building a large network of cables to support the olden day landlines we now have mobile phones. This is the same kind of approach that we are pushing for in terms of energy with the microgrid solution.
Tell us more about Villaya micro grid Solution. What is the foreseen impact of this solution in Kenya?(Answered by Mitchelle)
Villaya is a solution that provides an alternative to the use of a generator but is Greener, Safer, Cleaner and more energy efficient. It is a containerized mobile solar microgrid solution designed and produced in this plant here in Kenya to serve the entire African market. The capacity of Villaya is between 5kW and 65kW depending on the customer’s need.
The gamechanger around it is that it is a Plug and play solution; a system that is easy-to-use and install with easy-to-move retractable photovoltaic panels attached to a foldable EXOrac solar racking structure, easy to transport as the entire solution is fitted into either 10Ft or 20 Ft standard shipping container and finally, it is easy to monitor through the installed EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor system which allows managers to monitor and visualize their installed base operations including the battery status, along with energy production and consumption levels in real time.
The other innovation around this solution is that it has been designed with Sodium batteries, which are adapted to high temperatures and extreme environments hence no need of air-cooling systems. These batteries are also environment free and 100% recyclable with a 15-year lifetime.
This system drastically reduces engineering time, site commissioning and maintenance costs.
As an example, more than 130 schools in the remote areas of Kenya have been powered with our solution.
What do you think are some of the opportunities and expected growth areas for engineers in the industry?
There are many opportunities. A lot of these opportunities are linked to renewable energy, microgrid technology as well as industry automation with many factories investing in this area for energy efficiency, reliability and safety.
The world today is becoming more and more electric; from the time you wake up in the morning and switch on your smart phone to the time you finish your day, you have plenty of activities where you will rely on electricity. In the coming years 80% of world’s consumed energy will be electricity. So this is a domain that keeps on growing with a big revolution relying on the digital technologies that are now available, so there are plenty of growth areas for young engineers to exploit.
It is just a matter of providing the right support in terms of training and education for people to scale up and take advantage of these opportunities.
From an Engineering point, what can local companies learn from multinational firms/companies like Schneider Electric?
Or what can Schneider Electric learn from the people in Africa because I it works in both ways. We have much to learn from the people we work with. For example here in Kenya, the appetite by young engineers for digital topics is pushing and challenging us to go faster and deeper on these kind of technologies. We have managed to develop a solar containerised solution here in our Nairobi office in partnership with our France RnD and this solution is now produced for all of Africa region. This is only possible because we have the young Engineers with the right competences and skills, with the appetite to find solutions for the challenges that exist in Africa.
What do you think are the challenges faced by Engineering professionals and the engineering profession in Kenya and East Africa?
I think its access to hands on education, that is the possibility to find the right training and the right support to learn especially on the new technologies. This is the reason why at Schneider Electric, we have a very ambitious programme to develop training centres in Kenya and East Africa where we offer vocational training for engineers to upgrade their skills and competencies on the Energy Management domain. We are doing this in partnership with institutions like Don Bosco and Eastlands College of Technology where we have opened Green Labs. We have more than 13 such centres across East Africa and we intend to continue setting up more.
Private sector needs to work closely with learning institutions to influence curriculum and support the technical expertise to ensure what is learnt is aligned to what is happening in the industry.
Speak to us about capacity building and local content in the engineering industry in Kenya
Schneider Electric has invested heavily in training through the Schneider Electric Academy and the MyEnergy University available online through www.myenergyuniversity.com. These programs are available to our customers and offer a diversified array of training content to enable them reinforce their technical and entrepreneurial skills.
Internally and to our staff members, we are a multinational company that is very local. Over 200 employees working here are local. This is the same for all countries that we operate and we have a mission to localize the management and operations of the entire company. In addition, we are looking to develop a pool of talent in Kenya that can go to any of our other Schneider entities and deliver services. We operate in sort of two ways, we inject some competencies to fast track development of the people in Kenya and we also look to send off people abroad to learn and provide the same support to other countries.
What is your vision for Schneider Electric?
I have a long term vision for Schneider Electric East Africa. As I said, we have been around for over 180 years and we are just at the beginning of the journey with so much to do in Kenya. First, we would like to leverage more on the new digital technologies. I would like to see a scenario where businesses and industries are leveraging the Internet of Things and the advancements driving it; a future where our customers can see and plan energy consumption before it happens and where they can manage it efficiently and sustainably.
The second part of my vision is based around Access to Energy and more specifically how we can support our partners and customers to give more access to energy.
At Schneider, we believe that access to energy is a basic human right and it is part of our responsibility as a leader in energy management to further this one on.
The third one is about Education. Education is the key success factor for long term growth in Kenya and as Schneider we won’t hesitate to invest in this area.
Which should take preference between improving efficiency and generating more power.
We have to work on this as two parts of the same equation. One which is the supply and the other is the demand.
There is need to keep on generating more supply and we do believe that renewable energy is the next step. Energy in Kenya is already very much green with a lot of geothermal and hydroelectricity production but there is still a lot of potential especially in solar and wind.
The other aspect is about the demand, where there is still a lot to do to improve the energy efficiency and the technologies does exist. Its about connecting the assets to a system that will monitor and control the energy efficiency in real time. You can only start to improve your energy consumption when you can start to measure it.
And in between you have the distribution path, where again, there are many technologies that exist to improve the efficiency of the distribution channel. We are engaging with utilities to support them in this field.