Meet Our Team:  Jan-Barend Scheepers

Hello from Hyphen

Jan-Barend Scheepers, known as JB, is our senior project developer. JB is a proud Namibian who’s been at the heart of the renewable energy sector and other infrastructure projects in both his home country and other Southern African countries. He tells us why he loves his job, about practising acroyoga and why Hollywood’s loss is Hyphen’s gain.

Can you tell us about your role at Hyphen and what you do day to day?

As senior project developer I leverage my civil engineering background and my unique local experience in developing and building renewable energy projects in Namibia and in the South African Development Community (SADC).

I’ve been involved in all stages of some of Namibia’s flagship energy projects, working on schemes spanning solar PV, wind and desalination. In my role, one straddles engineering, project management and stakeholder engagement, and I’ve learned that it’s vital to continuously develop and test technical solutions while actively co-developing inter-workstream strategies. This requires a constant appreciation   of environmental, social, political and financial aspects of a project. You also have to be acutely aware of timings, budgets and the effect our work has on people, communities and the environment. 

I have several years of project development and implementation experience, having worked on the completion of Namibia’s first ever wind farm, the Ombepo Wind Farm, in the Lüderitz area.

I play an instrumental role in identifying, highlighting and solving potential issues locally, and ensuring these are addressed early within the project’s development path. Due to the complexity of the project, as well as ambitious schedules, it has been essential to find, manage and leverage available external experts while also building, aligning and mentoring Hyphen’s growing internal team. Creating the right internal culture is very important for me. I also regularly engage with stakeholders, both local and international to understand opportunities and expectations, and refine implementation plans.

I was also responsible for managing the opening of Hyphen’s head office – we went from it first being just me in a coworking space to now being a really lovely space where we all work together, and I’m proud to see the office being filled rapidly with our growing team.

What was your first ever job?

After graduating with from the University of Stellenbosch in 2012 with a degree in engineering, I spent about four years as a consulting civil engineer, focusing on land development and servicing projects across Namibia. These included projects on rural water supply, water reticulation, domestic roads, waste water treatment, bulk earthworks and contract management. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The breadth of the role is incredibly stimulating. My role focuses less on specific deep expertise but rather on ensuring that the team and I consider the interaction and merits of specific solutions and how they impact the overall project’s development and implementation. Project development is finding a path between managing risks without overengineering things, remaining flexible and knowing when a conceptual design is sufficient versus when specific final design are needed.

I also have to co-lead and support important aspects of the project, which could be massive projects in their own right. For example, construction phase housing for thousands of contractors, finding water and material sources on the site, planning the Lüderitz Port, the logistics of how we get thousands of project components on the site safely and how to connect water and hydrogen pipelines over 70km between our electrolysers and port. Each topic has many subcomponents and each needs to be understood in isolation but also how it fits into the entire project scope, and beyond.

One of greatest privileges is imagining and designing our project so that it can unlock Namibia’s  industrial future in Namibia, through the Southern Corridor DI program.  It’s a massive responsibility and an amazing opportunity being part of the Hyphen team and kickstarting a bright, green future for our country    

I also love the sheer excitement that is being expressed by Namibians who I have the privilege of speaking to – every day, I see a gradual shift away from scepticism about what we’re trying to achieve to genuine hope and even excitement. I’m so proud of this exciting future Namibia is accelerating towards!

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in renewable energy?

Often people think that renewable energy assume is only for those in technical disciplines such as electricians, contractors and engineers – it certainly was what people were saying at the early inception of renewables in Namibia. However, now I see Namibia’s future being increasingly tied to its ability to be a significant global player in the renewable energy space and as a result, the scope of roles in the Namibian energy sector is becoming broader every year.

Being the current chairperson of the Renewable Energy Industry Association of Namibia (REIAoN), I encourage  people to open their minds to the possibilities that are out there. If you want to get involved in renewable energy, just go for it! Find out more about the area you’re interested and have a look at how you can get involved. There are opportunities for all sorts of roles – construction and operations through to graduates of various disciplines. I firmly believe anyone can play a role in this accelerating sector.

Can you share an interesting fact about yourself?

I have done some acting in the past, both in the theatre and film.

A highlight was being cast in a leading role for the Namibian feature film The White Line in 2018. We had a tiny budget and filmed everything in just two weeks. It was an amazing group of Namibian professionals and amateurs who came together. I played an Afrikaner police officer, Pieter De Wet, caught in the moral complexities of 1960s Windhoek, which at the time was still governed by the South African apartheid regime. The film toured widely on the international film festival circuit between 2020 and 2022, and it won several awards. The film was also the first Namibian production to be considered by the Academy Awards for an Oscar.

Having been raised speaking English, my friends would agree that I’m not normally a native Afrikaans speaker, so I had to work on my pronunciations for this Afrikaans-only role. I was surprised and grateful to be nominated for best male actor at the Namibian Film Awards in 2019. It was a fun, creative project and I’m so glad I agreed to get involved with it.

When you’re not at work, what do you like to do?

I love spending time with my wife, both in Namibia and in Europe. I’m also a huge fan of studying history and geopolitics, and on the weekends I enjoy dancing and acroyoga, which combines acrobatics and yoga.

What are you most excited about for the future of the renewable industry in Namibia?

I’m very proud to see what Namibia has achieved since building its first solar plant in 2015. It is foreseeable that in the coming years Namibia could become largely free of fossil fuel-based energy generation and imports. Besides the obviously massive benefits to the environment, energy independence and sustainability, I love that this will also lead to numerous benefits for local Namibians.

The renewables space has become dynamic, it’s apparent that people are becoming better skilled and this is matching the skills needed at various stages of a project’s lifecycle. Broader development in the sector is also clear – we’re seeing improvements and opportunities in areas such as finance, legal, environment and training. In 10 years, we’ve seen the renewable energy space evolve from something being developed by enthusiastic pioneering hobbyists to one that can be described a major sector within the Namibian economy. It’s been, and continues to be, very exciting!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Be coachable and always assume you can learn something in every conversation you have.