• Full flow

    Invincible Valves MD Pam du Plessis on the relevance of hydro as a vital power source, and the role the company plays in the energy generation chain.

    Full flow

    According to AfDB estimates, around 640 million Africans are affected by a lack of access to energy. Switching over from dependence on fossil fuels, especially to meet the targeted Paris Agreement to keep the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2˚C, means Africa is in an ideal situation to take advantage of alternative energy sources. Not least of which is the effective use of water.

    ‘As long as we have water, energy can be sourced – be it from waves or rivers,’ says Pam du Plessis, MD of Invincible Valves.

    ‘Ocean energy is, for me, where the future lies, especially for a nation like South Africa, surrounded as it is by a coastline stretching more than 2 500 km. Numerous studies have concluded that wave power could contribute significant amounts to the overall energy picture, but due to the lack of finance and research, sadly no such commercial-scale wave power operations exist in Africa. This is understandable, given the complexity of the science and engineering involved, not to mention the costs. Apparently, wave energy science is running some three decades behind wind energy, for example.’

    Understanding such complexities way ahead of time, and being able to anticipate market trends and needs, is a cornerstone of Invincible Valves’ business, and why it is diversifying its supply of valves into hydropower generation.

    Hydroelectic power stations require pumping controlled amounts of water into and from dams – basically acting as brake or regulating systems. Generally, gate valves that have been supplied to hydropower plants were actually designed for the water works and sanitation industries, with adaptations that have proven problematic, such as plug and pressure ratings.

    Invincible Valves has been working on those challenges and has taken to market a new resilient seal gate valve (RSV).

    ‘Our Inval range, which includes ball, butterfly and non-return valves, have been enhanced with the introduction of the RSV given its robustness. It comes with a watertight seal, is full bore and can be rubber lined for slurry applications,’ says Du Plessis. ‘It also has a rising spindle that provides a visual indication of an open or closed valve position.’

    In testing the hydro market, the company works closely with the Lesotho Highlands Water Project (LHWP) on an ongoing water scheme that provides Lesotho with a source of income in exchange for water to South Africa’s Gauteng province, as well as providing hydroelectric power for the small landlocked country.

    ‘Phase two of the LHWP is under way and due for completion in 2025. This will help South Africa be better equipped to deal with the effects of climate change,’ says Du Plessis. ‘Various valves will be required over this period and our local agent is working closely with the engineers and local government departments to ensure we provide them with quality advice and products at the best possible price,’ according to Du Plessis.

    ‘Hydropower plants are and will remain limited in South Africa, however, because of its low rainfall by world standards. Currently, we have three largescale plants with a number of mini hydro plants. We do anticipate some new large-scale developments in the next decade though.

    ‘What we like about hydro plants is that they produce continuous power and require little maintenance. It is the upfront costs of the projects that are high. That said, there are a number of developments under way in almost every region in Africa, and we see our business expanding rapidly into these markets, particularly because our research and development allows us to adapt easily to requirements – and speedily.’

    Invincible Valves also supplies the power generation plants that use coal. ‘Currently we tend towards supplying the low-pressure valves for the cooling towers of such plants. As part of our scope of supply we also offer reconditioning, which is sought after by a number of these operations, as they are able to take care of their original equipment at a fraction of the cost,’ says Du Plessis.

    ‘Not only does this assist in containing budgets but it also translates into less downtime. Maintenance works on a rotational system, meaning we recondition valves taken off the production line. These can be put in storage so there will always be a working valve available as a backup.’

    It’s the same experience at coal mining operations. ‘We work hand-in-hand with regard to expansion projects as well as daily, monthly and annual maintenance shutdowns,’ says Du Plessis. The company’s involvement includes many of the major coal producers in South Africa, among which are Elandsfontein, Goedehoop, Graspan, Mafube, Matla and New Vaal.

    Petrochemicals is yet another power generation industry that Invincible Valves supplies, of which Sasol is an example. ‘Petrochemical plants are within our scope of low-pressure supply, and also make use of our reconditioned valves along with the usual supply of ball, diaphragm and butterfly valves in either stainless steel, glass- or rubber-lined formats,’ she says.

    Invincible Valves is tapping into Africa’s diversified markets by appointing local distributors. After training, distributors are monitored and assisted with stock holdings, costing and selling prices. ‘In this way we create consistency across the continent as well as providing a continuous movement of product into the market.’

    Agents are selected if there is a synergy in value systems and a willingness to commit to customer service.

    ‘We need our sales force to be an extension of our base business, which means maintaining integrity – be that in meeting quality expectations of the client base or in being innovative and adaptable – and, most importantly, having respect for the customer.

    ‘We do not require agents to carry a full range of stock, given we have a rapid supply system. But we do expect them to have comprehensive knowledge about the product range. In return we immerse ourselves in the growth processes of the agent’s business, so that we too understand their markets and customers.’

    Invincible Valves also provides training – once agents have sufficient knowledge, they can be enabled to communicate the need for even custom products, which Invincible Valves will manufacture from its base in South Africa.

    Training courses are run though the South African Valve and Actuator Manufacturers Association and incorporate an introduction to valves, working with them and their control. If required, a basic business skills course can also be provided.

    Taking its involvement one step further, Invincible Valves also provides marketing skills to its agents and, in support, the marketing material for advertising and trade show participation.

    ‘What we are finding is that the African market is very keen to gain knowledge and enhance their product offerings with the latest trends, so that they can be at the forefront of opportunities. We are also mindful of currency fluctuations and factor that into our pricing by offering a margin rate and not a specific rate, so that we can absorb the difference,’ says Du Plessis.

    By staying informed of all the developments in not just the global valve industry but energy generation and general market trading conditions too, Invincible Valves is set to remain a strategic partner in the development of Africa’s future energy needs.

    By Kerry Dimmer
    Image: Chrisette Smale