hydropower
The Rubagabaga hydropower project. Credit: EAP

Nowadays, the topic of the negative effects of the pandemic on the commercial environment is hard to avoid when in conversation with any business person. However, in conversation with Dan Klinck, founder and CEO of East African Power based in Rwanda, an award-winning developer of renewable power on the continent, it’s not all bad news.

The article appeared in ESI Africa Issue 1-2021.
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A Canadian by birth, Klinck has been living in Kigali for the past ten years. “I founded East African Power because I’m so passionate about SDG7 and the impact that electrification and access to energy that is clean, reliable and affordable, can have on poverty alleviation. So that’s kind of the drive that’s behind it. A decade ago it began with a very small project in northwestern Rwanda.”

This small beginning has led to the company’s current five operational plants, several in construction and in late stage finance. “I have an absolute passion about what’s going to happen in the decade ahead. We have over 100 full-time staff. Our objective is to deliver on developing 100 utility scale plants over the next ten years across more than ten countries.”

He explains that their success is driven by their long-term mindset. “I think, to be successful as an entrepreneur, you have to be resilient, very passionate about the work that you’re doing to overcome some of those short term hurdles. And it helps to have a medium to long-term perspective on things.”

Update on Rubagabaga

One of their success stories is the Rubagabaga hydropower project, which won the African Power, Energy and Water Industry Awards in 2019 for the top Small-Scale Sustainable Energy Project (under 5MW). How is this development doing?

hydropower
East African Power on-site at Rubagabaga hydropower project

“It’s going really well; what an exciting project. It was half a megawatt, the first containerised hydropower plant in Africa, and it’s running well. We’ve just been thrilled about the many lessons we learned with the first project,” enthuses Klinck.

“Using the learning, we have developed a sort of version 2.0 that will hopefully be coming out in 2022. And we’ve got a beautiful pipeline of projects where we can replicate this. There are several developers that are interested in these solutions, which are plug and play technology. The capacity to install it in such a short period of time is quite an attractive solution, along with the ability to scale it up.

“While there might only be demand for half a megawatt now, if the demand doubles into an area, we can stack the containerised solution one next to the other. It’s an exciting product. It’s new. We’re just as excited to see other types of competitors and people in the field replicate it – for us, it points to the success of the solution.

“Actually, it’s a made-in-Africa product. We’re talking to component suppliers to be able to fabricate it in Africa for African solutions. This will give rise to version 3.0. That will be coming up in a couple of years.”

Agri and health focus

Asked if there is a sector outside of energy that he finds inspiring, Klinck replied: “Certainly. At our core, we’re focused on the generation side of hydro and solar but we have seen interest to develop specific investment platforms for partners who are interested in energy and agriculture, or energy and health.”

Especially during COVID-19, he has seen an increased investment in affordable and reliable power specifically for health centres. “Our focus shifted to deliver on such projects. In terms of the population in Africa, which is expected to double in the next 30 years – 1.25-billion to 2.5-billion – agriculture will benefit from power solutions to deliver on food security. And addressing the balance between both these sectors.”

Klinck says while their core focus is on utility scale projects, they are seeing not only demand from utilities, but they are seeing an increase of between 20% to 30% of their long term portfolio for commercial and industrial clients who also want that type of security in their manufacturing and processing.

“I forget who coined the phrase but we like to call energy the golden thread that interweaves its way through the economic development that’s needed. It’s just natural for us to see a significant amount of attention given to energy when other sectors are trying to drive forward.”

Lighting up the continent

As an advisory board member of the newly branded Enlit Africa and a regular visitor and speaker at former African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa, Klinck likes the way the new brand has a positive feel.

“The idea of lighting up the continent; it’s encouraging for someone like me. Too much international terminology is around the Dark Continent and about poverty in Africa. I think there’s a new agenda for Africa: ‘This next decade is really exciting’. There are tremendous opportunities that Africa can offer and Enlit drives that message: It’s ‘Africa lit’, right? I think that it spells the way the conference has been moving and adopting new technologies, new platforms, new forms of communication, that are also tailored to specific areas or countries. I think it’s been a great adoption.”

Long-term mindset

“It’s been quite a journey and I think every company has been hit by the pandemic lockdowns. We’ve seen our revenues cut in half in 2020, a lot of our projects pushed off, and it’s been difficult accessing the sites. But on a positive note, what we actually witnessed are companies able to get through this— showing their resilience and strength.”

So much so that East African Power (EAP) has seen an employee growth of more than 25% during this period. Klinck explains: “We’ve been able to expand, pick up more projects, find other partners, get a greater understanding, and demonstrate our resilience. Our company values of integrity and resilience are founded in ‘‘turi kumwei’, a Rwandan expression for ‘we are together’. So that togetherness really brought people together in a unique way that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have happened.”

He adds that through the accelerated technological platforms that they are working on for communication and working with partners, they’ve seen a lot of cost savings that they can apply. “It’s quite a complex process in developing these small scale projects, which need technologies for communication, project management and tracking to be implemented. We’ve seen ourselves come out of it quite strong and in the long-term view, the pandemic was just a kind of ‘short stall’.” ESI

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