Small-scale off-grid electricity solutions may be the best method to help reduce the electricity deficit in Africa, argued global power and automation group ABB senior VP and ABB Africa director Tobias Becker during a panel discussion at the Africa Energy Indaba, which took place in Johannesburg last month.
The panel discussion centred on the potential for public– private partnerships (PPPs) to foster greater growth in Africa’s energy sector, which the moderator, South African Electrotechnical Export Council CEO Chiboni Evans, noted was dominated by State-owned utilities.
Export Credit Insurance Corporation of South Africa senior economist Tsidiso Disenyana highlighted that credit and sovereign risk was often the most significant damper on private- sector investment into the sector.
Becker suggested that smaller off-grid generation systems could provide a solution to help promote PPPs, as relatively inexpensive off-grid projects offered less risk for the private sector than large, capital-intensive infrastructure projects.
He noted that smaller solutions could be used to provide a quick power solution for smaller communities, which could later be connected to the national grid as transmission and distribution infrastructure roll-out progressed.
The trick, according to Becker, would be to create PPPs similar to those in the renewable-energy sector but focused on the development of smaller off-grid solutions.
Electrical engineering firm Tractionel Enterprise project manager and power systems consultant Philip König noted that a major hurdle to establishing PPPs was a lack of understanding of the cultural differences between typically foreign private investors and the local public sectors they were working with.
He highlighted that sufficient engagement was important to mitigate these differences and would also establish the aims of the project, as well as “break down the work structures”.
König explained that engagement would provide clarity on a number of key areas, such as the project responsibility of the various organisations and the organisation which would provide specific skills competences.