Energy comes naturally to James Shirley, who has taken up the opportunity to head up, and be fully accountable for, the solar business unit for southern Africa at Schneider Electric.
He explains that this includes providing the link between the locally located Schneider Electric office in Midrand and the company’s international offices, in order to bring the global specialist in energy management’s best practice products, design and implementation knowledge as well as its experience, to southern African staff, partners and customers.
Under his official title as solar business leader, James will, in particular, be responsible for supplying solutions to clients in three main areas. These are:
1. Utility scale (solar power plants) – feeding into the grid as part of government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer (REIPP) programme. “While Schneider Electric will not lead any of the projects, the company is able to provide electrical design and support to partners, in addition to simply providing equipment, as well as ongoing maintenance to ensure optimal plant performance,” says James.
2. Large commercial photovoltaic and hybrid solutions – feeding into private off-takers who sign power purchase agreements. “This includes solar photovoltaic-diesel hybrid systems for mines throughout Africa relying on generators to operate their facilities. By funding the complete project through partners, these projects can be turned to OPEX instead of CAPEX, and the clients are at no risk as they only pay for the energy that is produced,” he adds.
3. Rooftop – providing grid tie, off grid and grid interactive inverters, charge controllers, AC and DC breakers, disconnects, generator startup modules, monitoring and data logging solutions and enclosures, all from a single source.
James confirms that solar is both his passion and work. He began his university studies in Cape Town before moving to the United States and switching to chemical engineering at Colorado School of Mines.
After working in Canada, the United States and Peru on gold recovery projects, he put engineering on hold to pursue a career in sales and marketing management, at which he excelled, before returning to the field as general manager of Kayema Energy Solutions, a leading integrator of renewable and energy efficient projects in South Africa.
In 2012, James was admitted to the Association of Energy Engineers, with the highest score in the country for his Certified Measurement and Verification Profession (CMVP) certification exam. He speaks regularly at conferences around South Africa, and serves as chairman of the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa (SESSA).
“My passion for solar solutions is simple. Southern Africa enjoys plenty of sunshine, it is both predictable and reliable. We are in the perfect position to harness this power and, especially with the current electricity shortage, it is not only a good idea, but a fundamental necessity to the development of our region,” says James.
Schneider Electric country president: southern Africa, Eric Léger, to whom James reports, adds: “There are many compelling opportunities here in southern Africa, a hub for the African continent and regarded by many as the next growth engine for the world economy. James’ vast experience, knowledge and, above all, enthusiasm for the solar industry made him the ideal candidate to lead our solar business unit and to take the company’s top-class solutions to the groundbreaking energy projects currently happening in this region.”