Next week, over 200 African officials join US investors and US government officials for a three-day conference on improving African infrastructure.

Among those attending will be representatives from such well know firms as General Electric, or GE.  Tim Richards is the company?s director for energy policy and the chair of the organizing committee for the gathering.

He says there?s a lot of opportunity in Africa?s small but growing energy market.  For example, he says there?s a tremendous need for electricity in countries hit this year by a combination of potential growth and drought ? such as those of East Africa.

In West Africa, he sayss GE has already built a power plant in Senegal, and Ghana has been facing power shortages this year.  There are also plans to build a West African (gas) pipeline that could extend all the way to Algeria, and  there?s also opportunities for improving electrical power in oil producing countries:

?In West Africa,? Richards says, ?you have a different phenomenon where you do have economic growth brought about by the increase in oil and gas prices. Also, there is the phenomenon where in order to try to control climate change, one initiative is to reduce the flaring of gas in oil fields. When you decide not to flare gas, the very first thing that is profitable is to use (the gas that is ?captured? rather than flared) to generate electricity.  So in Nigeria and Angola there are significant considerations being given to building new power plants using that natural gas, and in Nigeria we have had a number of power plants ordered using GE equipment.?  In such cases, he explains that power plants would be built near the oil wells. 

Richards is enthusiastic about the turn-out at the upcoming infrastructure conference.  Among the groups which will be there to help investors will be multilateral institutions like the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the US Trade and Development Agency, which undertakes feasibility studies for projects. 

?We are working with African governments themselves,? he says, ?in terms of making sure we have a solid contractual arrangement that all parties are comfortable with.  We can work with the multilateral development banks about assurances in case of political incidents that might change governments.  [The Overseas Private Investment Corporation] offers a similar form of insurance and  US EXEM Bank offers backing to commercial banks that place loans.  So all these people will be there, and it will be a great opportunity to talk about real deals with people who have the tools to help make those deals a reality.?  (English to Africa 9/19)