Energy & chemicals

Possible careers within this industry
Construction manager | Plant manager | Chemical or mechanical engineer | Geophysicist

South Africa’s energy needs have dominated news headlines over the past year, as the country battled load shedding and talk of an imminent nuclear deal was rife. Positively, much progress has been made in the development of renewable energy and the government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (phew!) is well under way. The government is not only calling on independent power producers to provide renewable energy, it has recently stepped up efforts to incorporate independent coal power producers onto the national grid as well.

South Africa’s chemicals industry dates back to the late 19th century, according to a recent paper from the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), which notes that the first coal-to-liquids plant was built in Sasolburg in the 1950s and today, petrochemicals comprise about 55% of all chemicals produced. Companies such as Sasol, BASF, AECI, Afrox, Anchor Chemicals and Merck are among some of the big players in the chemicals and pharmaceuticals space.

What to study

A tertiary degree in the engineering or science fields is what you’ll need to work in the technical departments of companies such as Sasol, AECI and other energy and chemicals firms. Bear in mind though that large energy and chemicals concerns also have financial managers, in-house auditors, marketers, communications specialists and more.

Did you know?

  • Sasol was launched in 1950 in Sasolburg, Free State and today employs more than 31 000 people in 37 countries.
  • Sasol has a dedicated research and development team of more than 600 people, with over a third of them holding doctorates or masters in engineering and science. In the past decade, this team has been granted 210 patent families.
  • The petrochemicals industry is valued at almost $30 billion, according to the AIChE.
  • SA has a target of 10 000 GWh of renewable energy. The energy minister has determined that 3 725 MW of renewable energy is needed to ensure the continued uninterrupted supply of electricity.
  • By 2016, there will be more than 400 wind turbines generating over 1 gigawatt of electricity into the country’s grid – this equates to the supply of 511 000 household’s average energy consumption.
  • Wind power is now about 40% cheaper than new coal power produced by Eskom, and is four to six times quicker to construct than conventional energy.
  • South African born and raised tech entrepreneur Elon Musk runs the US’s second-largest manufacturer of solar cells, Solar City, as well as the electric car pioneer Tesla Motors and space transport producer SpaceX. In 2015, he announced the development of a new battery system that could store solar energy, called the Powerwall. Tesla Motors was founded in 2003 by Musk to improve the performance and cut the costs of electric motors. Tesla vehicles and the Powerwall use the principles of the AC induction motor patented in 1888 by Nikola Tesla.

Featured employers

  • Anglo American Platinum Limited
  • Samancor Chrome Limited
  • Sandvik
  • Sasol (Energy & chemicals sector sponsor)
  • Shell South Africa

Soft Skills

  • Co-operative
  • Dependable
  • Decision maker
  • Effective

Salary (Monthly)

  • Construction manager:
    R15 585 – R65 030
  • Chemical engineer:
    R20 525 – R109 469
  • Biochemist:
    R16 746 – R81 913
  • Project manager (construction):
    R16 746 – R81 913
  • Mechanical engineer:
    R16 746 – R81 913