Young trainees driving innovation at the NamPower Training Centre

Sem Mathews (22) and Juan Pete Compaan (22) are two fourth year Electrical General students at NamPower’s Vocational Training Centre who are using the passion they have for their trade to create a technologically-smart NamPower. The two are at the forefront of research and development for the implementation of automated lighting for NamPower buildings.

The journey that sparked this company-wide lighting automation project began when both Mathews and Compaan took part in World Skills Namibia in April 2019, a national competition that allows technical institutions and individuals to test their skills proficiency against peers in the same trade.

“We first came to know of the World Skills Competition in 2018 when we were still Level 2 trainees. Our instructor, Mr Piet Viviers, told us about this competition where he had also attended as an Expert in Electrical Installation, which included KNX (Building Automation) and Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). He then further told us that the normal electrical installation that we are trained to do at the Training Centre can actually be converted into an automated installation, and that’s when our curiosity and intrigue for automation was born”.

A year later, and with the encouragement of Viviers, the duo participated in the World Skills 2019 competition under the category Electrical Installations. Mathews scooped the gold prize while Compaan received silver out of a number of competitors hailing from different Vocational Training Centres across Namibia. Their victory sent them to South Africa for an 18-week training in Building Automation.

The additional training they received produced an even greater love for building automation and inspired the duo to gain as much knowledge in the art, in anticipation of one day implementing company-wide automated lighting to help NamPower substantially decrease maintenance costs through energy saving, with KNX. KNX uses infra-red sensors that detect body heat and would therefore automatically switch off lighting if there is no body heat detected, and on – when body heat is detected. This technology is a secure way to ensure that lights in unoccupied offices are turned off, thus saving electricity and ultimately, millions of dollars yearly.

The duo underwent their first training in Basic KNX and PLC in October 2018 at P&T Technologies in South Africa. Mathews and Compaan were then sent to undergo an advanced training course in KNX in 2019, which made them the only two people in Southern Africa to complete and be qualified in Advanced KNX.

In support of her students, Mercy Situmbeko, Head: NamPower Vocational Training Centre & Education, Training and Development (ETD), approached NamPower’s Executive Management with a formal request to automate the NamPower Head Office Building and other NamPower buildings. The request was approved. However, due to budgetary constraints and other factors, the project is on hold for 2020 and is anticipated to kick off in 2021 starting with the NamPower Training Centre’s building.

Looking to the future, the ETD Section has put up panels for Mathews and Compaan to continue practicing, while teaching other trainees. ETD plans to further invest in the two and plans to train them to be KNX Accredited Trainers, enabling them to train and accredit other trainees and employees, rather than having to send them to the only South African institute accredited to train KNX accredited by KNX Belgium. The NamPower Training Centre is also looking to expand its curriculum to include building automation and provide short courses in KNX to the public, as an income generating initiative for NamPower.

“To be honest, if it wasn’t for Piet and Mercy’s encouragement to be innovative and explore our passion, we would not have discovered the vastness and broadness of electricity. We are grateful for the opportunities provided for us at the NamPower Vocational Training Centre”.

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