Interview: Andrew Herscowitz
What do you see as the biggest challenges to achieving the goals of Power Africa?
ANDREW HERSCOWITZ: There are quite a few challenges, but I would say the two key factors are time and people. Naturally, it takes a significant amount of time to develop the sort of large-scale power projects we are looking at. When Power Africa was first launched, there were a number of large projects – especially hydro or gas – that for one reason or another had been delayed for more than a decade. Our target is to reduce the period of time from conception to completion for these projects to between 5-7 years. We also see potential for additional projects like the 8.5-MW Gigawatt Global solar project in Rwanda, which took only two years from conception to coming on-line. Renewable energy projects, such as solar, have a great advantage in that they will often move far more quickly, and we expect that large-scale solar projects could be turned around in between 3-5 years, which is faster than hydro and gas.
When we talk about the people factor, we have realised that the success of any project at this level hinges on getting the right people on board, not only in Power Africa, but in governments and companies as well. By the “right people” I mean individuals with capacity, integrity and drive. We need to work with people that are willing to push through difficult reforms and tackle obstacles such as corruption.
What role will renewable energy play in the future of sub-Saharan Africa’s power generation?
HERSCOWITZ: Technology costs have come down, projects can be built quickly and sub-Saharan Africa has some of the best renewable resources in the world. Now, this is not to say that hydrocarbons should be ignored – countries need to take advantage of the resources they have, and of course a diverse power supply is important. But the economic costs of hydrocarbons beyond simply money need to be factored in, and this includes pollution as well as the carbon impact of these projects.
To encourage increased utilisation of renewable energy sources, costs have to be brought down, and we need to see development in batteries and storage solutions for renewable power generation.
How can more integrated regional transmission grids be encouraged and developed?
HERSCOWITZ: The development of regional transmission grids – and markets – will happen. This is essential for the future. Consider a country like Botswana: it has one of the lowest population densities and one of the highest solar potentials in Africa. It could provide solar power to the entire continent. However the lack of connectivity across the continent is causing such countries to miss out on great opportunities to export excess generation.
In terms of encouraging the development of these regional grids, we are working with our partners across the continent to ensure that regulations and frameworks that are conducive to such projects are put in place. We are taking a transactional approach and working with the various regional “power pools” to develop real projects that will link these regions. Through these efforts, we recently launched the firstever regional public-private-partnership in Benin as part of the West African Power Pool.
Which countries on the continent offer the most competitive regulatory frameworks?
HERSCOWITZ: Kenya stands out for its on-grid and off-grid regulatory environments, both of which are very conducive to market innovations. That is why in the on-grid space, there are currently 11 independent power producers in the country. When companies are first considering entering Africa, they all talk about Kenya. Yet because it is a lower risk environment, the market is saturated and very competitive.
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