EnergyNet is exploring the potential in African countries to develop investment in critically needed projects such as microgrids
By Michael Cape
While there are myriad energy investment events focusing on the potential offered by Africa each year, only one organiser – EnergyNet – stands out from the pack as not holding what are often seen as “talking shops,” but for putting back in rather than just taking out of the continent.
Best known for hosting the leading Africa Energy Forum, EnergyNet is also responsible for a series of in-country investment meetings exploring the potential of territories such as Nigeria, Mozambique, Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco.
Its formidable reputation on the conference front has been enhanced in recent years by a unique and growing stance on social engagement.
This is precisely what has contributed to EnergyNet winning its second consecutive Queen’s Award for International Trade following its win in 2014.
For the 2017 award it is recognised for how the company has demonstrated its social responsibility credentials by pumping some £200,000 (over three years) of its own funds into energy-related projects whose objectives are to aid the lives of Africans.
Africa is viewed as a prime market for energy investment because of the potential of on-grid and off-grid project development, given that 600 million people live without access to basic energy. These opportunities are vast and increasingly investors are looking off-grid to the areas not serviced by national grids taken for granted in developing countries.
That means investors see significant financial opportunities in off-grid projects, mainly solar based. Off-grid falls into two categories – solar solutions for homes and microgrids which are designed to provide power for between 300 and 500 village homes and stimulate community-based businesses.
Microgrids are now high on the social agenda as they can provide power for start-up businesses, and create critically needed jobs to alleviate the threat of starvation. This, in turn, helps remove the need for local women to enter prostitution to feed their families in areas that have often been devastated by diseases such as Ebola or laid waste by local wars.
It is one such microgrid project in Sierra Leone into which EnergyNet will invest this year alongside Akon’s (the Senegalese US hip-hop superstar’s) Solektra International, who shares the same social awareness.
Having worked for almost a quarter of a century organising a global portfolio of summits where international investors can build relationships with credible African public stakeholders – with its team travelling across Africa 220 days a year to ensure they’re connected with the right players, EnergyNet is actively backing its social stance.
The corporate payback however is not limited to power projects. The company has also sponsored 63 African students under its EnergyNet Student Engagement Initiative (ESEI) flying them round the world to attend conferences and introduce them to sector leaders. Drawn from engineering, law and finance/economics courses, the students are mainly selected from African universities with which EnergyNet partners. In addition, Norton Rose Fulbright and Aggreko (their commercial partners) run competitions in countries where they work to also select four students each to participate in the programme.
EnergyNet is also active in promoting African art through its Arts:Energy Partnership which addresses the impact of energy access through the perspective of exciting African artists.
While a UK based Africa-focused team of researchers and experienced power professionals, the company is owned and supported globally by the UK’s largest conference and exhibitions organisation, Clarion Events, which installed Simon Gosling as Managing Director six years ago, a move which has since seen the company increasingly setting itself apart from its rivals through its altruistic approach.
Simon Gosling had previously worked in the Middle East where he developed – among other projects – the Saudi Downstream conference, the country’s largest petrochemical showcase, a programme which has been adopted by both past ruler King Abdullah and present King Saud, into which he also introduced a social responsibility element.
When Gosling arrived, EnergyNet had a turnover of £700,000 and it has now passed the £6m mark. Although profit ultimately remains the goal of this company, the Managing Director has assembled a team around him which includes experts in international relations and social development to ensure that it is not the only goal on the corporate agenda.
Energynet has set out to show that it is possible to be both profitable and responsible in Africa – and it works.
Pioneering project has potential to transform lives
EnergyNet is currently partnering in a pioneering project in Sierra Leone which has the potential to become a model for transforming the lives of people currently living in pockets of poverty and deprivation that can be found across rural Africa.
Energy access remains one of the post-Ebola recovery priorities in Sierra Leone. To help deal with this ongoing disaster situation, the Sierra Leone Project (SLP) has been designed to give a platform for young Leonean women to move away from prostitution, which has increased significantly post Ebola across West Africa.
EnergyNet is partnering with Akon Lighting Africa Initiative/Solektra International to co-finance an off-grid PV solar panel project in a rural community. They are working with the Barefoot Woman Solar Engineer Association of Sierra Leone (BWSEASL) to appoint a woman who will take ownership of the project with the local community. With this decentralised control approach, the project will give rise to economic activity and so improve health care in the area.
The site is a village in the North Region of Sierra Leone. As this is also the location for a Community Health Centre (CHC), not only will the off-grid system provide lighting essential for running small businesses but it will also enable the health centre to keep medicines refrigerated.
In collaboration with BWSEASL, EnergyNet will establish Village Solar Committee (VSC) to take responsibility for the project. The centre will be a business and learning hub as it will be equipped by renewable energy with a refrigerator, a freezer and solar TV s and it will put in place a working woman scheme and organise renewable energy workshops. Once the village is electrified, a telecommunication operator will install Wi-Fi.
The installation of the pilot project is expected to be completed this spring and the intention, according to an EnergyNet spokesperson, “is to replicate this model to electrify other villages currently living in the dark.”