Zayd graduated from the University of Pretoria with an Electrical Engineering degree before starting work as a graduate engineer in renewable energy in the early 2000s. “It was serendipitous, landing on a renewables specialist path back then,” he says, “because the industry was just getting started and nobody really knew how to build solar plants and wind farms. We were all figuring it out, it was exciting, and also a little scary, to be part of developing the roles and approaches that are so familiar in these types of projects today.”
He has participated in some major milestones along the renewable energy industry’s growth path, such as the first round of the Renewable Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP). “Round 1 was really one of the best renewables programmes in the world at the time, so it was valuable to be able to participate in that.” Having consulted on solar and wind energy projects since the local industry’s emergence, some of the work Zayd did in those early days has since become industry practice.
Nowadays, Zayd sits on various technical committees of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) and the South Africa Wind Energy Association (SAWEA) “as a way to give back to the industry”. Most recently, he has served as the Chairperson of the SAPVIA Grid Access Working group, which led the development and strategic guidance of the 2023 South African Renewable Energy Grid Survey in conjunction with the State-owned power utility.
The survey will aid Eskom in understanding the existing grid constraints better, and in its overall grid planning. The 2023 version of the survey will account for projects that employ wheeling and has been expanded to capture even more detail per project, which will be invaluable to Eskom’s transmission planning division. It also gives the South African renewable energy industry an opportunity to contribute to national transmission planning and development, which should add value in addressing grid constraints.
“I was very proud of that,” Zayd says, “because it gives back to the country and it helps South Africa to leapfrog other countries a little bit, where these are perhaps not as good at their planning for adopting wind and solar.”
Having joined WSP 18 months ago, Zayd has been able to grow the local Renewable Energy team from two people to six. He has facilitated skills transfer and development in the Africa team so that – rather than relying on WSP in the UK to assist, particularly with wind energy projects – the team is now considered some of the leading experts in renewable energy and battery storage within the group.
Zayd spends his days consulting with clients in both the public and private sector on renewables projects from generation to storage. “We’re probably at the forefront of battery storage in South Africa at the moment, which is something I’m very proud to be a part of,” Zayd says.
“Our projects are split mostly between solar and wind, where solar accounts for more than half of our work. But we’re seeing opportunities on the rise in wind as well, and our reputation for technical excellence in this space is growing, too.”
He also spends a lot of time coaching and mentoring young engineers and transferring skills to both WSP’s young professionals and those working for clients. Zayd currently sits on the Board of Directors on behalf of Stanlib for some of their renewable energy assets, often presents at industry events and engages with investors and other stakeholders to drive the adoption of renewable energy forward.
With so much happening in Zayd’s professional life, one could be forgiven for thinking he couldn’t possibly have time for anything else. But he is able to make time for horseback riding and working on an e-commerce “side hustle” as well.
“Finding balance is a life-long journey,” he says. “I’ve found it in parts of my life, and I’ll find it again in the future. It’s important to realise that there are times when you have to work hard and you need to make time for that, and other times when you have to make room for yourself. You’ve got to be constantly evaluating.”