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Gridless Africa interviews ESI Africa's editor, Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl, to undercover some of the trends and predictions for Africa's power and energy market for the year ahead.

@NicolettePombo please tell us more about your company; mission, vision, and goals

@ESIAfrica’s purpose in life is to build a bridge between our readers and the many solution providers out there in order to change the tale of Africa’s energy, power and water transformation. #GridlessAfrica #GACentralAfrica

It’s a huge goal, but as Africa’s leading power & energy journal, established in 1996, we have firm industry relationships (such as with @UTCNow & @iha_org) to help us stay abreast of innovation, success and of course the challenges.

Our readers, who are from across the world, view us a trusted impartial industry mouthpiece, delivering the latest technical developments, breaking news, tenders and analysis in both print and digital formats.

Can you give us a highlight of your company’s activities in 2018?

2018 was an inspiring year for us! We travelled into five continents to distribute the journal & gleaned information first hand from the experts. Thanks to our media partnerships including @FutureEnergyHub @ElecramaLive & @AfricanUtilities.

Another exciting trip was to Egypt to visit the world’s largest combined-cycle power plant. Professionals from @Siemens_Energy @ElsewedyElec & others emphasised the importance of utility-scale projects remaining a key development area.

The brand has also explored new topics that are of interest to our readers such as digitalisation in the energy market and the water-energy-food nexus.

Please give us a brief summary of Africa current status terms of the adoption of clean energy solutions.

I’m afraid there is no clean cut answer; however, adoption of clean/renewable energy solutions is on an upward trend. The challenge is that it isn’t growing at a sustainable rate: meaning, the impact is far less than we’d hoped.

The full range of solutions at our disposal must be explored: solar, CSP, geothermal, gas, hydro, wind, & hybrid systems. But it’s not just about adoption: shift the emphasis to the available source, demand profile, quality & affordability.

Why do you think renewable energy in Africa’s energy sector has evolved the way it has?

In previous decades, the focus has been on utility-scale baseload power plants along with a centralised national grid. These systems were developed on proven concepts & connected consumers to a ‘static’ network.  

It’s worked well but didn’t cover the majority of the population. Renewable energy is the new kid on the block but doesn’t quite fit into the grid as we know it. Managing the variability on a ‘static’ grid needs an innovative redesign.

There is also the financial risk aversion of new projects to be addressed. All of which has attracted some impressive innovative solutions such as cryptocurrency and net-metering.

What factor do you think will continually help drive this progress?

Renewables are labelled intermittent energy. That is technically correct. But it’s hampering non-tech professionals in government, regulators, financial organisations & local municipalities from fully exploring projects. Change the label!

How do Multilateral Development Banks view RE investment in Africa? How can this be improved?

Initially, multilateral development banks steered clear of any investment in Africa, let alone renewables. The change took consistent effort from governments to promote countries at meetings such as the World Economic Forum.

As an example, the Lake Turkana Wind farm in Kenya recently come online, connected to the national grid! But this project took years to overcome its risk profile to attract finance.

In general, investment appetite into African infrastructure development is changing and we are likely to see considerable improvement this year.

What are the peculiarities of investing in Renewable energy in Africa?

The most notable is that, regardless of the project’s size, investors & developers must visit the site, talk openly with communities, find out their needs, and their understanding of the project. So much can be lost in translation!


Where do you envision Africa will be in the next 5yrs in terms of the deployment of clean energy solutions especially solar technologies?

My prediction is the rise of Africa 2.0 where digitally-savvy, young Africans deliver greater entrepreneurship to the energy market. There are already African-led and SME start-ups making a difference.

There will be a vibrant market of distributed energy solutions, which combine water and wastewater technologies. Lenders will change their risk-aversion to energy-related start-ups as this market becomes more lucrative.

What is the role of Government and the private sector in stimulating investment in Solar energy for Africa?

The abridged answer: government must include solar in the long term energy resource planning and ensure that the auctions (if that’s the route taken) and off-taker are stable and cooperative.

Government can also introduce incentives for those that adopt solar energy solutions or address the affordability of installations through regulation. Another key area is introducing standards for the products & related services.

The private sector can look beyond plant development & installations toward local manufacturing of parts, not just assembly. We can discuss more of this in another Twitter chat session.

Please tell us a bit about the team of individuals that makes up ESI Africa? What developments should we expect from the journal? Do you have volunteer or employment opportunities for interested persons?

Our team of editorial, marketing, sales and production is based in Cape Town, South Africa. We have an extended ‘family’ in Johannesburg, Lagos, and London. The team is quite diverse in terms of their expertise and responsibilities.

I’d like to give a shout out to Ashley Theron-Ord and Babalwa Bungane who work tirelessly to deliver valuable content in print & online. We also have staff writers, association partners and contributing authors who share our vision mentioned earlier.

In terms of employment opportunities, we publish industry job vacancies when received from the market and every week we feature new tenders on the website and in our daily/weekly newsletter. In the coming year, @ESIAfrica will bring you more videos, webinars and expert interviews from around the world – all of which is freely available to registered readers on our website.