Exclusive interview with Mark Hankins, CEO, African Solar Designs (ASD) in Kenya. He will deliver the industry address during the upcoming EAPIC conference session on “A Fit for Purpose Distribution Network”.
Please tell us more about ASD?
African Solar Designs is a Kenya-based renewable and rural energy company that provides a range of technical and advisory services in the energy sector, which focuses on:
- Engineering and technical support for renewable energy and energy access solutions, both public and commercial.
- Our expertise includes all facets of project management, from technical and commercial studies of renewable energy options to project feasibility, energy audit, system design, equipment tenders, installation, and after-service support including monitoring and evaluation.
- Clean energy advisory services including market analysis, policy development, technical training and capacity building, business model development, rural energy access and financing, project management and strategic planning.
We consider ourselves to be thought leaders and pioneers, essentially trying to map the way forward for renewables in the region.
In our view, as the technology improves and clients get more sophisticated, technical assistance will be more and more in demand — in the same way that architects are increasingly needed in complex building projects.
You have done many renewable projects in the region – can you discuss some of your success stories?
We installed the first commercial grid connect PV project in Kenya, a 60 kWp system at SOS Childrens Village in Mombasa in 2011. That project was interesting because, along with planning and installing the system, we also had to educate the Kenya Ministry and Kenya Power as we went along.
We’ve also designed and implemented mini-grids for clients in conservancies; we’ve done scores of commercial grade audits and solar system designs and installations.
Right now we are finishing up work with WWF Uganda to write Africa’s first 100% Renewable country road map and we are working with the United Nation Foundation to design 250 remote clinic energy solutions in Uganda, Ghana and Malawi. We are busy.
What in your view are the main challenges for the implementation of renewable energy projects in particular?
There is a need for Governments in the region to take renewables more seriously. Instead of the current dichotomy where solar energy is seen on the one hand as a solution for very remote sites and poor people or on the other as an opportunity for hundred megawatt investment, we need Governments to recognize that small, grid-connected systems (and by this we mean anything between 1 and 400 kW) will be an important area for solar investment and business expansion.
If the right incentives and policies are in place, then financing, investment and customer choice will follow.
How excited are you about the prospects of the energy industry in this region?
I am extremely excited about the potential for embedded and net-metered renewable systems in East Africa. If you look at what has happened in California, Japan, Germany and now India, you can see that the future is bright here. Renewable energy, especially PV, is cost competitive today.
You are part of the discussion on distribution networks at the upcoming EAPIC. What will be your main message as a representative from the industry?
It is time for power companies and Government ministries to open up the grids to distributed power.
We are entering an age when the stand-by diesel gen-set will be replaced by renewable solutions and when companies and developments will consider investing in their own generation because its greener, more reliable and cheaper.
My main message is that instead of blocking or fighting this distributed power future, we need to embrace it. It will create jobs, it will improve the grid, it will be healthy for industry.
Can renewables be a game changer in this discussion?
What are you most looking forward to at EAPIC?
I look forward to discussing renewables with other players, to learning about what is going on elsewhere in Africa and the world and to meeting new partners and suppliers.