Stéfane Leny is the Trade Development Adviser (Energy & Environment), Industry & Cleantech Department, Business France – Johannesburg Office and organisers of the French Pavilion at this year’s African Utility Week.
Country pavilion interview: “The French Pavilion will consist of 15 French companies, including renewable and conventional energy firms specialised in technology solutions, software development and equipment manufacturing”
Let’s start with the Business France Industry & Cleantech Department – what is your role at the office and what are the goals of this office?
Business France, formerly known as Ubifrance, is the result of a merger between the latter and the AFII, the French Agency for International Investments. We are a governmental agency tasked with supporting the development of French companies overseas as well as attracting foreign investment into France. We are present in 111 countries worldwide.
Our mission at Business France’s South African office is to facilitate the creation of business relations between French and South African companies. The Industry & Cleantech department’s focus is on assisting stakeholders in developing synergies in the transport, construction, extractive, mechanical, energy and environmental industries, to name a few. As part of my role, I oversee the Industry, Energy and Environment portfolios.
What kind of projects are you involved in in South Africa and in Africa?
Our Johannesburg office coordinates a variety of business development projects in South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zambia, where we participate in trade shows, organise technical symposiums and accompany French businesses in their attempts to develop in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the energy field alone, we have helped close to ten companies establish a presence in South Africa in the past three years, as evidence of South Africa’s energy market potential.
You will bring a French pavilion to the African Utility Week in Cape Town in May, what kind of companies will be part of this stand?
As always, we strive to bring in innovative companies that are diverse in their expertise and offerings, in order to cover as much of the energy value chain as possible. This year is no exception, as the French Pavilion will consist of a minimum of fifteen French companies. Among those present will be renewable and conventional energy firms specialised in technology solutions, software development and equipment manufacturing.
How important is the African market as a whole for the French suppliers in the utility sector?
Africa has a high-potential utilities market, where we see numerous opportunities for years to come. Business France regularly assists French suppliers and service providers in bringing new cost-effective solutions and technologies to African utilities.
In South Africa, for instance, French firms have been able to successfully partner up with local firms in order to provide a comprehensive range of sustainable energy solutions for the market. On a utility-scale, our national electricity producer, EDF, maintains a long-standing knowledge transfer partnership with Eskom with the help of the French Development Agency (AFD), that has provided Eskom with financing to renovate, refurbish, develop and maintain its transmission and distribution network, as well as to facilitate the integration of renewable energy into the national grid.
What challenges do renewable energies face in Africa in your view?
In recent times, we have seen challenges such as high financing and capital costs in Africa that, coupled with a lack of domestic lending power, lead to a poor investing climate and lower availability of finance.
From a business development perspective, we are often faced with a lack of transparency surrounding development projects, which creates a barrier to entry by negatively affecting investor confidence. We also see, hear or read every day about challenges in addressing water and food security issues on the continent as priorities; this is hard to achieve when access to the electricity grid is so low in rural areas.
However, those are issues that renewable energy can contribute to solving through a focus on decentralised energy generation. One may also consider the potential for solar power in agriculture as a solution to irrigation, for example. I thus believe that, for every challenge, the opportunities are twofold when a number of key drivers are in place: along with the expansion of the private sector in developing economies (and appropriate government intervention via policy support and procurement programmes), an important driver of renewable energy market growth is a decrease in the cost of technologies.
Energy derived from PV and wind has proved on quite a few occasions to generate more financial benefits than costs, for instance, and this is quickly catching along across the continent. Let us not forget that, in 2015, South Africa had the fastest growing green economy in the world! Overall, and because the use and importance of clean technology will only increase in Africa, we believe the opportunities are greater than the challenges.
What are you most looking forward to at African Utility Week?
I am looking forward to a busy show, with opportunities to interact with stakeholders from across the continent and to build meaningful relationships for the continent’s development. I naturally also look forward to helping showcase the French expertise in the energy sector!