Out of the crisis and toward renewable energy

Visiting Humboldt scientist: Dr. Wilfred Fritz
[Photo: Roeder]

Dr. Wilfred Fritz of Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in South Africa has been working on issues concerning his country’s energy supply for years. For the next two years he will be a Humboldt fellow at the Institute of Power Transmission and High Voltage Technology (Institut für Energieübertragung und Hochspannungstechnik, IEH), where he is integrated into the research projects of his host professor Krzysztof Rudion, Head of the discipline Grid Integration of Renewable Energy.

Pilot community in solar energy
The graduated electronics engineer brings a lot expertise about his country’s energy supply to the table. In 2012, he received the South African/German prize ‘African-German Network of Excellence in Science’ for young scientists for his research. At a conference of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in 2014 in Nairobi, where he gave a presentation on his work, he was encouraged to apply for a postdoc fellowship in Germany.

In his search for the best-suited university, he discovered the IEH with the department lead by Prof. Rudion. He wrote to Rudion and told him about his planned research project. In 2015, he first flew to Stuttgart to discuss his plans. Fritz sums up the successful conclusion of his application as being “a long process”.

Der Südafrikaner Dr. Wilfred Fritz ist zu Gast bei Prof. Krzysztof Rudion am Institut für Energieübertragung und Hochspannungstechnik.
The South African Dr. Wilfred Fritz is a fellow under Prof Krzysztof Rudion at the Institute of Power Transmission and High Voltage Technology.

Supply reliability
Power outages due to excess demand for electricity still plague South Africa. Fritz will never forget the enormous energy crises of 2007. Irregular power outages led to acute supply emergencies with severe consequences for people and the economy. To avoid an absolute blackout, entire regions had to be taken off the grid by turns for hours at a time.

Gradually, the region is turning to renewable energy by considering wind and solar energy in addition to coal. The official decision to feed renewable energy into the grid to satisfy the huge demand was taken only three years ago. Now, the country is working on the step-by-step implementation, explains Fritz, who in 2013 participated in an energy efficiency project as leading technical advisor to the Ministry of Energy in Pretoria. “However, we anticipate that there will still be supply problems.”

The 52-year-old studied at Stellenbosch University, then joined Siemens in Johannesburg, after which he worked for the Cape Town city administration before returning permanently to research and teaching. Since 2001, he has been working at CPUT in Cape Town, interrupted only by his function at the government level.  

Stuttgart as a model for South Africa
Germany is much more advanced in dealing with the problems of integrating renewable energy into the power grid. At IEH, Dr. Wilfred Fritz intends to gain the expertise his country needs based on local research. In a four-year mega-project, with millions of support by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Prof. Krzysztof Rudion and his team are working with nearly 50 project partners to create the energy system of the future. Fritz is involved in parts of this project. Here as well, one of the central questions is supply reliability. Together with grid operators, scientists measure crucial parameters for supply quality and examine them. How does the time of day affect supply, for instance, and what is the role of consumers? After the parameters have been evaluated, mathematical models are to be developed that will enable scientists to describe and analyze larger systems. The ultimate goal is a safe and reliable supply system.  

A model project is already underway in Beaufort West, about 400 kilometers from Cape Town. The city is the first community where home owners can connect their solar systems to the power grid. It provides an ideal testing environment for Fritz and Rudion for forecasting effects on the grid. Since Beaufort West is significantly smaller than Cape Town, the pilot project is much more manageable here.  

Heavenly conditions
Before arriving in Stuttgart, Wilfred Fritz took German language instruction at the Goethe-Institute in Munich. “In Bavaria, I saw snow and experienced a cold German winter,” the scientist laughs, and adds: “I have never been that cold in my life.” Now he enjoys the spring around the campus in Vaihingen all the more. His own energy supply is recharged by running in the forest three times a week. “Having a forest right outside your door is simply heavenly,” the athletic nature lover beams. He is currently living at the guest lecturers’ residence on campus, but is looking for an apartment of his own.

To the top of the page