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Summit Showcases Initiatives to Alleviate Power Shortages in Africa

  • Mariama Diallo

Investors and power developers from around the world gathered in Washington last week to push ideas and efforts to alleviate the shortages of electricity that plague many African countries.

The In-Stream Auger Turbine, which uses flowing water to generate power, was among the technological innovations exhibited at the second annual Powering Africa Summit.

“This unit, unlike other hydro-energy projects, doesn't take years to perform,” said Chun Pong Ng of Zoetic Global. “Unlike wind and solar that only deliver when Mother Nature cooperates, these units deliver energy 24/7, nonstop as long as the river flows."

His company just signed a 100-megawatt purchasing power agreement with Ghana's electricity company and hopes to deliver the turbines by mid-summer.

Another example of innovation: Karpownership, dubbed the "floating power plant," according to Veronica Bolton-Smith from EnergyNet, the organizer of the summit.

"They are able to pull power that's generated from their ship onto the mainland and they've just done a project in Ghana and it was quite successful," Bolton-Smith said.

However, she stressed, the smaller projects are just as important as bigger ones.

"We've got something called 'Shake Your Power' which is run by a lady called Sudha. It's a little device kind of like a musical instrument; you shake it and it emits a light,” Bolton-Smith said. “That's going to be relevant to someone living in a provincial place that has no reading light or can't see their cooking utensils."

Progress, praise, hope

It was 2013 when President Barack Obama unveiled the new power Africa initiative with a vow to invest $7 billion in U.S. government resources.

Fast forward to this week, in which Power Africa coordinator Andrew Herscowitz unveiled a free app called PATT, which can track hundreds of energy projects in the continent.

"What we've done with this road map is we've shown specifically how we're going to add 30,000 megawatts and 60 million connections," he said.

Babacar Diagne, Senegal's ambassador to the U.S., praised Obama's initiative, which he credits with helping to boost Senegal's electricity production.

He said nearly $100 million from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation will allow Senegal's biggest power plant to reopen in May 2016.

OPIC financing provides medium- to long-term funding through direct loans and loan guaranties to eligible investment projects in developing countries.

Opportunity for many

The hope is that these partnerships are just the beginning, said Gabino Guerengomba, CEO of Integrated Solar Technologies.

"The electricity shortage in Africa is 90 million megawatts, so it cannot only take one company or one government," Guerengomba said.

Tony Elumelu, chairman of Heirs Holdings, which operates a portfolio of businesses across Africa, also stressed the importance of partnerships in creating success for all parties.

“We are the first solar module that’s developed from the ground up exclusively for Africa," he said of a recent project. “As a result of it, we have not only produced our first unit, but we went on to get a very good contract with the government of Benin. We are here not only to present our joint venture, but also to seek partners to showcase how our technology can really be a game-changer in the energy sector in Africa."

The future, agrees Herscowitz, is bright.

“There is absolutely no reason the entire continent can’t be lit up,” he said, “because there is the money, the technology and the desire to make it happen. People have to be more forward thinking, forward leaning and have competition to bring cost down.

“The new external challenge with what’s going on with commodity prices being lower and currency devaluation; that’s going to add an additional complication, so our role is going to be what we can do to help mitigate some of those risks as well.”