Tell us about Total’s Awango project.

It’s a solar-based energy project designed to enable off-grid, low-income communities to meet some of their most basic everyday needs. Fossil fuels won’t be around forever – we estimate that 25% of energy consumed in 2030 will come from renewable sources. We’re focusing on solar energy. Our subsidiary SunPower, which produces solar panels, is the worldwide leader in its field. We have been contributing to SA’s renewable energy programme, building solar farms and developing an affordable solar lamp.

We know there is a good connection to the grid in SA, but a cheap lamp will help many poor families. This is a social business, along the lines of the model created by [Nobel Prize winner Professor Muhammad] Yunus. We need to cover our costs, but we’re not focusing on profits. There is still some work to be done on the marketing front as the product has been on the market for a year now. We plan to distribute it through a network of NGOs, but it will also be available at any Total service station.

What kind of shifts are we seeing in the energy industry?

Gas is gaining on crude oil in the global energy market. It is environmental friendly with lower emissions, so it has grown substantially. Shell Gas is strong in the USA, but Total is a global gas brand with a strong presence in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, including Nigeria and Angola.

We are developing solar energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, as I’ve said, and are also working on biomass [biofuel] – there is a future there, but it will take more than 20 or 30 years to see a shift.

You’re the outgoing chairperson of the South African Petroleum Industry Association (Sapia). What is the role of this organisation?

Sapia is an association that defines the interest of oil marketers and refiners in SA and promotes the security of supply. It engages with the Department of Energy to make sure that infrastructure is in place. The chairmanship rotates annually.

Sapia also plays a role in introducing new clean fuels and engages with the department to manage expectations, make use of international experience and define what is required in terms of investment. The local oil industry is extremely regulated – the price is defined by formula. So Sapia also engages with government to discuss regulation and make sure that the sector functions properly.

Transformation is also on the Sapia agenda. It makes sure that the industry is aligned with the wider transformation agenda of the country. For instance, one of the highlights of my chairmanship in 2013 was opening up the association to smaller newcomers to the industry, developing operators, gas players and bio-fuel producers. Sapia had previously comprised just seven major stakeholders, but today it has 25 members. We also want to develop the skills of our people. We have leadership programmes for women and work with Duke University in the USA to develop skills and the competencies. As a professional association, we are defending the interests of the sector.

So it’s about working with the commonalities, even though you could be competing in the same space?

Yes, the competition is very clear and there are definitely issues that we won’t mention in meetings. But transformation is very important to us all and we are working together to achieve this. We have to make sure we comply with safety and technical standards too, because industry activities are extremely dangerous.