Small wind turbine manufacturer Kestrel is fulfilling a need in rural Africa with a cheap and effective alternative to grid electricity. It is helping to power homes and farms in outlying areas where Africa’s still poor infrastructure is unable to fully penetrate.
Now the company is looking to market its product in both the UK and US after gaining the relevant certification. African Business Review asked the company’s Sales and Marketing Director Leon Gouws to tell us more about the expanding business and the relevance of sustainable energy alternatives for Africa.
ABR:How long has Kestrel been trading?
Leon Gouws:Kestrel Wind Turbines was established in 1999. Eveready (Pty) Ltd. purchased Kestrel Wind Turbines in 2006 and it is now trading as Kestrel Renewable Energy (Kestrel).
ABR:Why was the company started?
LG:There was a need and opportunity for small wind renewable energy solutions.
ABR: How many people does it employ and where is its manufacturing base?
LG: Kestrel is based at the Eveready head office in Port Elizabeth. Eveready currently employs 400 people of which 39 are Kestrel employees.
ABR: What impact has Kestrel’s small wind turbines made in South Africa?
LG: With the ever rising cost of electricity, Kestrel offers an alternative, cost effective solution to grid electricity.
Kestrel has given rural off-grid communities access to clean water and power, and enabled off-grid farms to enjoy reliable electricity generation and supply.
ABR: Since gaining certification in the UK and US, what has the reaction been to Kestrel’s products?
LG: Since gaining certification, we’ve had a very positive reaction. Our daily enquiries have and it has also changed the way that Kestrel is portrayed – everybody now knows that we are a leading small wind turbine manufacturer.
ABR:How is Kestrel marketing its products overseas?
We market our products internationally, mainly through our website and by interacting with dealers who promote our products. We also attend international shows e.g. AWEA Windpower Conference & Exhibition and carry out international PR.
ABR:Are there other markets the company is hoping to break into with this product and if so where are they and when does the company hope to break into them?
LG: Since our e400nb turbine has been UK (MCS) and USA (SWCC) certified, our focus lies mainly in the UK and USA. We are currently in the process of breaking into these markets.
ABR:What makes Kestrel’s small wind turbine stand out from its competitors?
Unlike a lot of other wind turbines manufacturers, Kestrel is backed by an established company (Eveready (Pty) Ltd.) with a world class manufacturing facility.
Kestrel’s wind turbines are fitted with a unique, patented pitch control, which enables it to withstand wind speeds of more than 120km/h without cutting out.
Kestrel is the first turbine in its class to be MCS and SWCC (conditional) certified.
ABR:How important is renewable energy for the African markets?
LG: Reasons why renewable energy is important for African markets:
· Sub Saharan Africa, where 80 percent of the continent’s population resides, accounts only for a quarter of the electricity generated in Africa.
· The modular nature of most renewable energy technologies and the low investment levels makes them particularly suitable for capital-constrained African countries.
· Renewable energy technologies utilize locally available resources and expertise and would therefore provide employment opportunities for the locals.
· Rural areas have poor electricity access and remain overly reliant on biomass sourced from dwindling forests.
· The African grid connection is immature and there is a huge need for electricity. It is essential for Africa to make use of renewable energy to achieve growth.
ABR: Are governments doing enough to support the renewable energy market and if not what do they need to be doing more of?
LG: Currently there are no incentive programs in place for small wind. Eskom’s Independent Demand Management (IDM) program only caters for systems between 10 kilowatt and 350 kilowatt, which is too big for residential use. If government were to subsidise smaller projects, making it affordable for home owners, the reliance on grid electricity would be much less.
NERSA is prohibiting the feed of power generated by renewable energy onto the national grid. This is putting strain on renewable energy companies, as grid connected systems are significantly cheaper as there is no need for battery banks, etc.
ABR: How is technology aiding the design and function of small wind turbines?
LG: As technology comes along, it is used to constantly improve the wind technology.
ABR: How will technology change the turbines of the future?
LG: Turbines might become lighter, more robust and less noisy.
ABR:Are there any plans to expand Kestrel’s business if so what are they?
LG: Yes, definitely. From a sales and marketing point of view we would like to grow our international markets and set up service and training centres in other countries. We are also planning to expand our product range to include bigger and smaller sized turbines.
ABR: Are there any major capital investments planned for 2013 and if so what are they?
LG: We are planning some capital investment as far as blade manufacturing is concerned.