The first South African Universities Power Engineering Conference (SAUPEC), or SAUKIK (Suid Afrikaanse Universiteite Krag Ingenieurswese Konferensie) as it was known in Afrikaans, was was hosted by the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University in January 1990. The event came about at the initiative of Prof. Ron Herman and Dr. Koos Holtzhausen, both faculty members of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University at the time, with the view to establish a forum where academics and research students in power engineering can present their work to their peers, network and exchange ideas. The idea of a SAUPEC attracted strong support from leading academics in the field of power engineering, including Prof. Frikkie van der Merwe at Stellenbosch University, Prof. Jan Reynders at University of the Witwatersrand, Prof. Ron Harley at University of Natal and Prof. Daan van Wyk at Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit. SAUPEC 1990 started strongly, attracting support from colleagues at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across the country. A total of 46 research papers were submitted, reviewed and presented. As in many of the following years, academics and students were accommodated in student residences and the presentations were delivered in university auditoriums and classrooms in order to contain costs in face of the financial constraints of the time.
The Eskom Tertiary Education Support Programme (TESP), aimed at supporting postgraduate research in power engineering at academic institutions, was initiated in 1992. This program, due to a pragmatic yet professional approach to funding academic research in power engineering, quickly established a formidable fraternity of academics submitting research proposals and taking part in report back sessions on an annual basis. The annual TESP report back sessions for grant holders were aligned with the SAUPEC conference around 1998, whereby the TESP report back event typically preceded the SAUPEC plenary session. The association between SAUPEC and the Eskom TESP grantees report back sessions has contributed significantly to the sustainability of SAUPEC over its lifetime, especially through economy of scale benefits that accrued to SAUPEC in hosting these events jointly.
In 2015, SAUPEC became part of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE). The 23rd SAUPEC became the first SAUPEC conference organised under the auspices of SAIEE. This alignment not only fostered increased interaction between SAUPEC and the professional engineering community, but also empowered local organising committees through the logistical support services offered by the SAIEE secretariat. The continuity and support offered by SAIEE will contribute in a meaningful way to a sustainable future for SAUPEC.
SAUPEC enjoyed strong sponsorship support from industry throughout its history. Together with Eskom, companies such as ABB, Siemens, Aberdare Cables, Schneider Electric have sponsored the conference on a recurring basis. As in the past, these sponsorships continue to play a crucial role in enabling SAUPEC to contain registration costs whilst maintaining financial viability and sustainability. SAUPEC gratefully acknowledges the industry support that has carried the conference to the present day.
SAUPEC represents a unique conference event in the sense that it not only a forum for high quality research papers that aim to qualify for publication subsidies through a rigorous peer-review process, but also presents a platform for students to present work in progress at an early stage in their research careers. During the 28 years leading up to the 26th conference in January 2018, SAUPEC established a legacy of 25 conference proceedings, hosted by Universities and Universities of Technology representing the entire spectrum of HEIs active in power engineering education across the country, with a total of 1693 peer-reviewed papers and a further 128 discussion or poster papers.
With few exceptions, where successive conferences followed with an interval of 18 months or two years, SAUPEC took place on an annual basis, hosted on a rotating basis by an inclusive range of HEIs involved in power engineering education. As such, it has always presented a unique forum for networking between academics and students. The interaction with TESP contributed active and sustained interaction with leading industry professionals and industry sponsors in the power engineering field.
During the 28 years of its existence, SAUPEC became more than just a conference. It also evolved into a vibrant fraternity of academics, students and industry professionals involved in power engineering education and research. The regular and recurring interactions through SAUPEC events have been instrumental in fostering strong collegial relationships between the academics involved in power engineering, both in the country and the region as a whole. Through this legacy, SAUPEC has made a unique contribution to foster the coherence that characterises the academic fraternity representing power engineering education in the region.
In considering the future of SAUPEC, it is worthwhile considering the history of similar events in the rest of the world. UPEC, the conference on which SAUPEC is modelled, celebrated a 50th conference in 2017. UPEC progressed from an event that was predominantly localised in the United Kingdom to an international conference that has been hosted at various European universities in recent years. The Australasian Universities Power Engineering Conference (AUPEC) celebrated a 26th event in 2017. It is clear that the concept of a universities power engineering conference is sustainable. In this context, SAUPEC has already established a noteworthy history and legacy. In recent years, SAUPEC has been attracting a rapidly increasing number of international participants, especially from the African continent. The number of postgraduate student delegates originating from the Southern African region, in particular, is increasing on a yearly basis. SAUPEC is uniquely positioned to become a distinguished international forum for academics and students involved in power engineering research, particularly in the context of the African continent.