Most people might think that chief operating officers have dull days cooped up in the office, but for Kouga Wind Farm’s COO Ayrton Pieterse, his job is a pleasure.
An avid hiker and keen photographer, Ayrton joined the Kouga Wind Farm leadership team as Chief Operating Officer in 2019.
After studying Electrical Engineering at Nelson Mandela University, he spent some time at Eskom in Johannesburg.
“I found my feet there when I left the parental nest,” says Ayrton. It was also there that his interest in renewable energy developed.
In 2013, Ayrton moved to Cookhouse where, after some years, he became the operations and maintenance manager at Cookhouse Wind Farm.
“I gained invaluable experience in the renewable energy sector when I visited projects in Uruguay, India, Spain and Portugal,” he says.
“The skills involved in a wind farm’s operations are an amalgamation of so many engineering disciplines – IT, electrical and mechanical engineering – an understanding of which I have picked up along the way.
“Given the location of most wind energy facilities – and the fact that my hobbies mostly take place outdoors – it is an absolute privilege to be involved in an industry as beautiful as wind energy,” says Ayrton.
At the same time, my job means that I am at the forefront of addressing both the power crisis in South Africa and the negative carbon footprint of conventional energy generation – coal power.”
Ayrton’s role as COO entails oversight and management of all operational aspects of the project, something that his technical background and years of experience in the field have certainly equipped him for.
I believe I have a unique advantage in resolving both technical and administrative challenges, as well as an obligation to share my skills and experience in the technical and managerial operations of a working wind farm. Most asset managers are not aware of the challenges faced by a wind farm’s most important resource – the technicians who keep the turbines spinning. This background greatly assists in addressing problems faced by the technical team, suppliers and stakeholders involved with the project.”
In addition, he is responsible for the health and safety of all the primary contractors.
The renewable energy sector has been targeted with producing 42% of South Africa’s energy requirements by 2030. Currently, Kouga Wind Farm mitigates over 300 000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions each year, playing a significant role in ensuring a cleaner, better future for South Africa.
Aside from its environmental and economic contribution, Ayrton is especially proud of Kouga Wind Farm’s focus on empowering the people it serves. To this end, 26.2% of the project is owned by the local community through the Kouga Wind Farm Community Development Trust.
The wind farm’s corporate social investment programme supports empowerment projects in communities within its footprint, such as Sea Vista and Umzamowethu. Of the wind farm’s revenues, 1% is utilised annually in the funding of the programme.
To date, some of the many projects that have been funded include a tertiary education bursary programme, school literacy programmes, building the Sea Vista Community Library, rebuilding a local crèche, upgrading the main access road between St Francis Bay, Oyster Bay and Humansdorp, and the Rainmakers empowerment initiative for local women.
The scope for further socio-economic development projects is enormous, and Kouga Wind Farm works closely with the community to identify where these can best be implemented, in line with the core pillars of education, skills development, health and welfare, and recreation.
One aspect of community involvement is in making use of local products and services.
Trevor Arosi, economic development manager at Kouga Wind Farm, says that offering local employment opportunities contributes to the growth of local businesses and stimulates economic development where it is needed most.
Ayrton believes that he really has the best of both worlds. Despite his understanding and experience of renewable energy projects overseas, he is convinced that the growth and development potential that is available in South Africa in this field make it the place to be. He adds that he often jokes with his colleagues in the Cape Town office that “you cannot get a better office view anywhere than the one I have from the turbines.”