HomeFeatures/AnalysisExclusive interview with Charlotte Aubin-Kalaidjian

Exclusive interview with Charlotte Aubin-Kalaidjian

Charlotte Aubin-Kalaidjian is the Chief Executive Officer, GreenWish Partners in France. She will address the opening session of the upcoming Future Energy Central Africa in Yaoundé, Cameroon in October.

“I believe we have an urgent duty to address Africa’s pressing energy deficit. Renewable energies, together with inclusive and innovative business models, are essential to tackle Africa’s challenges.”

Let’s start with some background on GreenWish? What motivated you to start it?
By founding GreenWish, we have developed an innovative solution that relies on our unique expertise in international finance and the renewable energy sector, but also on our environmental awareness and passion for Africa. With GreenWish, we offer a sustainable, competitive and innovative response to Africa’s energy deficit. We guarantee the tenability of our solution through long-term investments, which create both financial and social value in the renewable energy infrastructure sector. Africa is at a turning point and solar installations are only the first chapter of the continent’s transformation.

Ultimately, IT and electric networks will come together to develop smart integrated solutions for both electricity and content distribution. GreenWish is proud to be one of the pioneers in this inspiring venture towards innovative energy solutions.

Who are your partners?
In 2016, GreenWish partnered with Denham Capital, a leading global energy-focused private equity firm, an energy and resources private equity firm with more than $8.4 billion in invested and committed funds in the oil and gas, power and mining industries. The aim is to develop, build and finance a portfolio of 600MW of renewable energy assets across sub-Saharan Africa by 2020. GreenWish also relies on its local partners in Senegal (Senegalese Deposits and Consignments Fund, Senelec, Senegal’s National Electricity Company) and in Nigeria for instance. We are also committed to the US Power Africa initiative, which has been helping us a lot, with the R20, whose mission is to help governments around the world to develop and communicate low-carbon and climate resilient economic development projects. We also partner with PIDG and MEDEF International.

What are the projects that your organisation is involved in that you are most excited about currently?
We recently signed a partnership with Orange to implement clean energy solutions for its network of telecommunication towers in the Democratic Republic of Congo This model, called ESCO (Energy Services Company), consists in outsourcing the investment, installation, modernization and operational management of electricity generation infrastructure in order to optimize electricity consumption, reliability, environmental impact and the energy costs of the telecom operators. We aim to equip 10,000 towers with hybrid solar solutions in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020, an estimated investment of about $800 million. The continent has some 240,000 telecom towers to date depending on diesel generators, a figure that is expected to reach 325,000 by 2020 according to GSMA.

Can you share some success stories?
We are proud of our very first operation in Africa, in Senegal. In February 2016, we launched the construction of Senergy 2, a photovoltaic plant with a capacity of 20 MW located in Bokhol, at the border between Senegal and Mauritania, in partnership with Senegal’s National Electricity Company (Senelec). The project gave birth to the largest independent production site of solar energy in Sub-Saharan Africa (South Africa excluded). Thanks to its performance and the cost per kilowatt-hour produced, Senergy 2 will generate 3 billion FCFA ($4,9 million) savings a year for the Senegalese state, i.e. 58 billion FCFA ($95,6 million) over 20 years, which is the duration of the electricity purchasing contract with Senelec.

Finally, Senergy 2 will also save 23,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Beyond the creation of 150 jobs during the construction phase and 25 more for the management and maintenance of the site (40% of which are reserved to Bokhol’s local community), Senergy 2 has installed independent solar systems for local communities. Senergy 2 also supports the project aiming to connect local communities to the grid. Besides, 2% of project revenues are allocated to local communities for investments in the health, education and agriculture sectors.

What in your view are the biggest challenges with regards to energy that the Central African region is facing at the moment?
Solar energy is developing well in Southern, Northern and Western Africa but is slower to take off in Central Africa. But the fundamentals are basically the same. The region is working at improving the regulatory framework. One of the key challenges for the growth of alternative energies is the differential tax and subsidy treatment between renewables and other technologies. Governments should also look at increasing capacity to provide sovereign guarantees and equip themselves with the best and brightest to deal with the private sector.

In the context of lower revenue from oil and gas in oil exporting countries, solar energy can be of a particular appeal. Indeed, low oil prices have decreased oil exporting countries’ foreign exchange reserves, which in turn make it more difficult to import refined fuel to feed thermal power plants. In the long run, solar will be more and more competitive than diesel power for most applications.

You won the African Utility Week Industry Award for the Outstanding Contribution Award: Power – what did it mean to you to be recognised this way?
It certainly is an outstanding achievement for such a young company. What it says is that the Africa’s clean and rapid electrification is possible. I believe we have an urgent duty to address Africa’s pressing energy deficit. Renewable energies, together with inclusive and innovative business models, are essential to tackle Africa’s challenges. 100% of electrification would generate an increase in African GDP growth of 10 to 15% per year for 15 years. The award is also a celebration of our talented and dedicated team’s vision, commitment and values. Every day, they help us grow GreenWish and implement ground-breaking projects across the continent.

You are addressing the upcoming Future Energy Central Africa in October on the topic of “Investing in a clean and sustainable future: the energy revolution in Central Africa” – what will be your message at the event?
I would like to talk up the enabling environment for renewable energy projects: legal, financial & technical skills of public parties and utilities. Opportunities across the scope of renewable solutions: on-grid, off-grid, C&I, distributed, etc. Key enablers that would unlock the region’s potential and fast track the success of renewables projects in Africa.

Anything you would like to add?

Thanks for giving GreenWish and the renewables sector at large an opportunity to showcase their products and innovations for a green electrification of Africa. But I also believe solar energy will allow much more than electrification. Thanks to solar, we will go much further with solutions such as last mile electrification for the rural communities who might never be connected to the grid. I am confident Africa is rapidly advancing towards a renewables revolution that will allow it to create a new development model. This is only the beginning.

Babalwa Bungane
Babalwa Bungane is the content producer for ESI Africa - Clarion Events Africa. Babalwa has been writing for the publication for over five years. She also contributes to sister publications; Smart Energy International and Power Engineering International. Babalwa is a social media enthusiast.