Dan Brose is the Developer at Songa Energy Burundi. At Future Energy East Africa, he is presenting a session on “Setting the scene: Experiences setting up private concern in Burundi. The good, the bad, the reality.”
Let’s start with some background on the work that Songa Energy does in the energy sphere in East Africa and your role there.
Songa Energy is focused on development of small hydropower projects in Burundi, primarily grid-connected plants, but with future plans to construct our own plants to power agribusinesses that we invest in. I am the founder and President of Songa Energy, and Burundi is our principal focus for several reasons: lots of untapped hydropower potential, significant unmet demand (electrification rate is about 5% of the population), new legal framework for IPPs, and I am a dual Burundi-US citizen.
Any exciting projects that you are currently involved in that you can share?
We are currently developing two small run-of-river hydropower projects, and we are actively raising equity for these projects. We have finalised terms of the PPA agreements with the utility, and drafts of the PPA and Concession contracts are being prepared. These projects are exciting because they will be the first private grid-connected hydropower projects to be built in Burundi. Certainly there is also a lot of risk in Burundi, and only projects with return commensurate to the risk are being
What in your view are the main challenges in the power sector in Burundi right now? And East Africa?
Burundi has its own set of unique risks, related to the political crisis that began in 2015 and continues to this day. Though the country has been very secure for us to operate in over the last three years, this crisis has resulted in a steep drop in aid and investment coming into Burundi – resulting in a suffering economy, high inflation, and lack of foreign currency. In addition to these unique challenges, we face the typical challenges of new and inexperienced electricity regulator and poorly maintained electrical grid.
What in your view are the main opportunities currently?
Burundi has a lot of potential for small hydropower, and there are few IPPs currently operating in the country – largely because of the recent political crisis, French as the dominant language, and lack of knowledge about Burundi. In the future, as the sector matures and enough electricity comes onto the grid, opportunities will grow for small hydropower production linked with agricultural transformation.
What is your vision for the industry?
My vision for Burundi is that it has a growing and vibrant economy, which is accessible by all Burundians – especially the rural entrepreneurs who work primarily in agriculture. Electricity is a critical requirement to make this vision a reality, and access to electricity must be available throughout Burundi – not just in the primary commercial centres. For this to happen, we must have a strong and independent electricity regulator, we must have a well-run electricity utility that is planning and investing in the future, and we must have an investment climate and framework that encourages healthy investment both from abroad and from within Burundi.
At Future Energy East Africa, you are presenting a session on “Setting the scene: Experiences setting up private concern in Burundi. The good, the bad, the reality” – what will be your message at the event?
My presentation will summarise my experiences over the past three years developing small hydropower projects in Burundi – what I have done well, what I should have done differently, and what I have learned. In the end though, my message is that “one has to be passionate and fully committed to developing new projects in a risky environment.” The pain, the cost, and the delays have been much more than I ever anticipated; but at the same time the new and unexpected opportunities, the relationships, and what I have learned are more than I ever anticipated. Burundi is a beautiful country with wonderful people, and I am thrilled to be pioneering power projects in this often-overlooked country.
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