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Compton Saunders, MD of Nordex Energy South Africa (NESA).

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LEADERSHIP PROFILE: Compton Saunders, Nordex Energy South Africa’s new MD

Compton was appointed as MD of Nordex Energy South Africa (NESA) in October 2021, after almost 8 years at Globeleq South Africa Management Services.

RenewAfrica.Biz’s Executive Director, Munyaradzi Jani (MJ), interviewed the newly appointed MD of Nordex Energy South Africa (NESA), Compton Saunders (CS). Compton was appointed as MD of Nordex Energy South Africa (NESA) in October 2021, after almost 8 years at Globeleq South Africa Management Services.

Compton’s role at Nordex Energy South Africa includes, developing and implementing Nordex SE’s strategy in South Africa; developing the sales channels and finding opportunities to grow the Nordex market share in South Africa; establishing and leading the management teams of the South African organisation; managing the results of the projects in execution and services; P&L of the South African business; establishing good relationships, rapport and collaboration with the international structures of Nordex.

His academic resume notably includes Cum Laude across all qualifications: Bachelors Of Engineering (BEng); Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration (PGD); Master of Engineering (MEng)- Engineering Management, ISO 55000 Aligned Asset Management Framework for a Portfolio of Renewable Power Plants in SA; and an Masters of Business Administration (MBA).

MJ: Over your almost 10 years’ experience in the renewable energy sector, please provide us with comments on how you see the country’s energy transition progressing?

CS: South Africa has a very specific history related to its energy needs, which includes the last 10 years, and its relationships between our economy, access to finance, labour, government and politics and other global imperatives are and will remain challenging to navigate. We have had an energy crisis since 2008 – and stakeholders were aware of this crisis a long time before we had the first black-outs.

A crisis is always a good opportunity to make changes that would be more challenging to make under “business as usual” conditions and it has been unfortunate that SA has not been able to capitalise more on the need for power in an environment where renewables are one of the most competitive technologies available.

Yes there has been some success related to the roll-out of renewables – but if we want to address the current energy needs, grow the economy, and transition to clean energy there needs to be a balance between the realities of South Africa and finding the medium term balance between our energy mix, skills and importantly energy security.

Progress [success] is relative, but I believe that with the potential of renewables and that of wind energy in South Africa – there is an opportunity to speed up the effort of creating energy security using wind technology. This process of making the best decisions for the country and in the current global context should logically imply a transition away from coal power generation.

There are the normal topics related to the just energy transition – but what I think is more important is that we have to take long term views on the world as we are not only making decisions for us but generations to come. Whether its politics, government, private investors, or we as voting citizens – we have to look to the future and make decisions that could result in a more positive world for us all to live in.

MJ: As one of the RE industry’s few young black MD’s, what are your views on sector transformation and the importance of this in the SA context?

CS: Firstly, I am really thankful for the opportunities the industry has provided for me to operate in my areas of strength and eventually land the incredible opportunity at Nordex Energy South Africa. In the context of South Africa and the many corporate and government leadership challenges and dysfunctions – which are often attributed to the weak implementation of transformation agendas – it is important that for the long-term success of our sector that there is a focus to develop young black professionals who have the competencies to make a positive contribution. In order to do this there have to be opportunities for education and experience in technical, management and leadership roles to develop the toolset required to positively contribute. This deliberate process is the responsibility of renewables businesses and each individual who wants to contribute. It is important that as leaders of organisations we make the decisions that creates diversity – gender and race – and ultimately build a strong sector.

MJ: What are some of your short- and long-term goals in your position as MD of Nordex Energy South Africa?

CS: I spent the first six months understanding the organization and its various challenges and opportunities and then worked with the management team to develop some very clear strategic focus areas. Short term priorities are to ensure that we build a competent local team and focus on readiness for the upcoming construction of projects and to ensure that we take the lessons learnt from our experience during REIPPPP BW4.

Longer term, the focus is to grow and maintain our position as the market leader in South Africa by developing a local organisation known for having competent teams with a culture of ownership who can deliver wind farms on time and on budget and operate and maintain them at benchmark standards. Importantly to continue delivering economic value and opportunities within the South African economy we have to ensure that we remain sustainable as a business in a challenging global renewables market.

MJ: What comments can you add about the difference in operating more in the OEM space now, within renewables, as opposed to your work in IPP asset management?

CS: Although the renewables IPPs and Wind OEMs have common goals related to climate change – the IPP perspective is vastly different than that of a large wind OEM. The priorities, challenges and risks are often in contradiction with each other – these business models are fundamentally different.

The fundamental difference is that as an OEM the business is driven by the sale of technology and related services – therefore the business development activities are vastly different but also key to the business. Selling wind turbines is a “complex” process and is something I have gained a newfound respect for. Really good turbine sales engineers and executives need a broad skill set from finance and business, commercial, engineering and technical, internal and external stakeholder management, relationship building and be able to build and use a broad network of market intelligence to be effective in their roles.

During construction, the risks that the OEM has to assume and manage are significant and challenging. From equipment supply timelines and quality, to logistics, shipping, global supply chain challenges, local market conditions, supplier challenges and performance, technical problems to solve, bonding structures and costs and internal business challenges in relation to its contractual commitments. These factors span over continents with teams all over the world working together to deliver an operational wind farm.

Customers try and pass as much risk to the OEM while reducing pricing – resulting in OEMs often having to deliver high risk projects at low margins. The unsustainable nature of this practice become clear during CV-19 and Ukraine war and there has to be a rebalancing of risk and costs to ensure that the renewables market has sustainable large OEMs that can deliver solutions to IPPs to enable our common goal of decarbonizing the globe.

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