UP postgrads scoop prestigious Green Talents awards in Germany

Posted on November 02, 2018

University of Pretoria postgraduate students Pheladi Venda Tlhatlha and Nsilulu Tresor Mbungu have each received a prestigious annual award from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for their participation in the Green Talents International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development, which promotes the international exchange of innovative environmental ideas.

The award honours young researchers and recognises them for their outstanding achievements in making societies more sustainable. Nominated by a jury of German experts, Tlhatlha and Mbungu were among 25 candidates who received the accolade, all of whom were selected out of 736 applicants worldwide. The winners were drawn from various scientific disciplines and are granted access to Germany’s research elite. They attended a two-week science forum in Germany, from 13 to 27 October 2018, which took them to various hotspots of sustainability science in the country.

“I feel privileged to have been selected as a Green Talent,” says Tlhatlha, a second-year Environmental Management master’s student. “It’s an incredible opportunity to engage and gain more knowledge about sustainability science in Germany, and all over the world, from interactions with other participants.”

Her research explores the challenges of energy poverty and household energy use patterns in informal settlements in South Africa, and seeks to find renewable energy technologies and implementation strategies that can be retrofitted into new and existing technology in order to alleviate poverty in these areas. “I chose this discipline because environmental management is a fundamental component of sustaining all types of life. It also has a strong interdisciplinary approach to addressing various sustainability challenges. As an environmental scientist, I’m able to integrate environmental, social and economic aspects into my research and work.”

Pheladi Venda Tlhatlha receives her award certificate from Georg Schütte, German State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research 

The forum’s jury acknowledged the relevance of Tlhatlha’s research to Germany. “One of the key factors of sustainable development is collaboration and innovation. Although access to energy in Germany is rather different to the situation in South Africa, the exchange of research and knowledge will be of benefit to energy conservation efforts in both countries,” the jury stated.

“The Green Talents network is comprised of scientists who focus on various topics such as climate change, biofuels, nanotechnology and water quality, which can allow for future collaborations between different research areas and across different countries,” Tlhatlha adds. “This will also allow me to become a better researcher in my field due to exposure to terrific institutions in Germany.”

She is considering either enrolling for her PhD next year or establishing a project that promotes environmental education and sustainability science in the primary and high school curriculum, with a strong emphasis on encouraging skills development and training for young prospective scientists. 

Electrical engineering PhD candidate Mbungu is doing his doctoral research in power group and smart-grid research. He believes that winning a Green Talents award is an opportunity “to learn new strategies of sustainable development, improve my work through meeting experts and provide me with a strong background for my career, from which people can benefit in the future”.

His research involves creating the adaptive system behaviour of the electrical system under smart-grid environment. The work aims to develop sustainable energy coordination by creating optimal control behaviour, which can be implemented inside or outside smart meter devices for micro-grid applications.

Nsilulu Tresor Mbungu receives his award certificate from Georg Schütte, German State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research 

Global power supply, says Mbungu, faces many challenges to keep up with the ever-increasing energy demand. “Temperatures are rising, and conventional energy resources like coal, natural gas and oil are in decline. Simultaneously, more than 1.2 billion people still do not have access to the electrical grid globally.” This is very much the case for a significant number of people Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), his home country, and Africa as a whole. “The DRC is one of the most precious in the world concerning potential mineral and renewable resources, which can support sustainable development across the earth. Smart-grid technology is the answer to several deficiencies in the electrical system, not only in the DRC, but for communities around the world.”

Mbungu aims to create a new generation of the smart metering system to improve the efficiency of energy flow on the network. “This consists of optimally integrating renewable energy, minimising production costs, operation and consumption on the demand side, and reducing atmospheric emissions levels from conventional electrical grids.”

With the improvement of energy flow, he hopes to address social and economic problems in energy sectors. Mbungu hopes to start a research and development consulting institution that can assist the sectors on the African continent with the implementation of applied research in the framework of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. “I believe the future perspective of Africa’s development depends on sustainability approaches of analytical thinking and innovation so that we leave a better place to the upcoming generation.”

- Author Primarashni Gower

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