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Spotlight on Paeradigms' Energy Lead: Dr Joseph Mutale

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

an interview with Carol Switzer

We are proud to introduce one of Paeradigms' key team members, our Energy Lead Dr Joseph Mutale. Joseph is a Zambian native and was educated in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Norway and the UK. He has worked in industry and as an academic and has been involved in projects all over the world. He met the founders of Paeradigms where they were all working on a project for the Pan African University’s Institute of Water and Energy Sciences. For Paeradigms, he brings his long-standing experience in energy systems and climate change to help us in supporting development through renewable energy solutions.

Dr, Joseph Mutale (on the right) handing over laboratory equipment donated to the Copperbelt University in Zambia by IEEE

Tell us about your role at Paeradigms.

In my role of Energy Lead at Paeradigms, I work with the Paeradigms team to identify and execute energy projects, mostly in the area of electrification based on renewable energy, which involves higher energy efficiency and thereby effective energy savings. These projects range from evaluation of energy projects and programmes to capacity development in renewable energy with a focus on developing countries, especially in Africa. The primary objective of electrification projects is to make a difference in people’s lives through sustainable and affordable energy, improving infrastructure and therefore advancing development. I am presently based in Manchester in the United Kingdom. I will, however, be relocating to Lusaka, Zambia in the near future.

Tell us about your speciality in energy in the Development Sector.

My twin passions are education and energy. I spent the first 15 years of my career as a practicing engineer in the electric utility industry. My last post at the Zambian national utility was Director of Engineering Development. After my stint in industry, I spent the next 18 years as an academic, conducting research, supervising research students and teaching undergraduate and post graduate courses in electrical engineering. My last post was Professor of Sustainable Energy and Electric Power Systems at the University of Manchester, UK. My specialty is planning and designing sustainable power systems –including off grid systems – based on renewable energy. Specifically, it includes the following areas and associated capacity development:

  1. Assessing the Impact of variable output renewable energy, such as solar PV and wind, on power system operation and planning. This includes reserve requirements and investment requirements to accommodate these types of energy sources.

  2. Implementing rural electrification using renewable energy

  3. Determining pricing structures of transmission and distribution networks

  4. Engineering capacity building focusing on skills development by fostering cooperation between university engineering faculties and industry. This requires reimagining the approach to engineering education to meet the current needs for scale and quality. We need to train more engineers. How can we leverage the internet to bring about quality mass education of engineers that are in short supply in Africa?

Capacity development seminar on Smart Grids by IEEE Distinguished lecturer, John McDonald

What is your outlook on the renewable energy industry in the next five years where you have worked?

I believe the dominant trend will be deploying renewable energy in the process decarbonisation of electricity generation systems. I believe that in five years and beyond, renewable energy, particularly solar photovoltaic systems (solar PV) because of its ubiquity, will form the basis for the deployment of micro and mini grids as a key component of mass electrification of rural communities. I believe the cost of storage will drop, helping to solve the intermittency of wind and diurnal nature and variability of solar PV.

I also see further developments in energy efficiency through efficient appliances. LED lighting has already led the way in efficient solutions to lighting, which has been so critical in rural areas. I believe the utility industry will undergo major transformations as we witness a paradigm shift in energy provision with self-supply through technologies such as roof-top solar. The traditional utility model is coming under pressure. Though, it might take longer than five years to mainstream electrification of transport, this is also coming. The elimination of diesel and petrol vehicles in cities is now urgent, given the impact on air quality in cities. We are living in interesting and exciting times as these energy transitions will create jobs and, in the process, contribute to stemming decline to irreversible climate change.

Electrification of a school in rural Zambia using solar PV (VeroPower and Smart Village Zambia)

A demonstration substation constructed in a collaboration between industry and the University of Zambia through the Education Partnerships in Africa project

What is the impact of Covid-19 in terms of progress on energy projects?

The initial impact of COVID-19 slowed things down as the world community grappled with understanding the virus and finding safe ways of working. While we are not out of the woods yet, even with the development of COVID-19 vaccines, new ways of working are being developed and I expect the projects to get back on stream. We cannot afford to let this virus stop development.

How will this unfold for you going forward?

I am presently involved in projects that have had to dramatically change delivery plans to cope with COVID-19. Travel has been severely curtailed. This has led to delays in project execution and in some cases diminished effectiveness, especially in capacity development. I believe the impact of COVID-19 will change the way we work even after it is brought under control. Despite this change, I am hopeful and certainly wish that in the “new normal” we will be able to travel, enabling in-person interaction with communities and collaborators that we serve and work with. In my view, there is no substitute for first hand experience to understand the context and realities that people we are trying to serve live in. Therefore, I hope to see a return to normal as soon as possible. This will also allow me and my family to relocate to Zambia in timely fashion.

What are you reading?

I am currently rereading a small paperback book titled “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. This book was published a very long time ago and I first came across it about 20 years ago on a trip in India. I remember that when I first read it, it had a profound effect on me changing my whole perspective on life and engendering a sense of peace and serenity. In this brave new world of COVID-19, I felt the urge to remind myself of some the principles in this little book to help me navigate life’s current challenges and it is helping! I also like reading real life stories and autobiographies. I have my sights on President Obama’s recent book on his White House years. Rest assured though that I do not have presidential ambitions.

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