This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
pv magazine: A recent press release by Solarise Africa highlighted your commitment to developing new project pipelines and expediting a green Covid recovery in East Africa. How will expanding the PV footprint in Africa contribute to economic revival?
Patrick Huber: Our recent partnership with Centennial Generating Co will see new operations in Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. We aim to bridge the financing hurdle and reduce dependability on an unstable power grid, significantly improving up-time and productivity.
As far as how these projects will help with economic revival, we know that economic development starts with modern energy access. Evidence shows that countries that invested the most in green stimulus in 2008 and 2009 successfully created jobs and boosted their economies. Pursuing low-carbon and climate-resilient growth is the best way to unlock lasting economic and social benefits. It has also been proven that companies committed to 100% renewable power have better new-profit margins and earnings than those without this commitment.
As you look to implement more solar projects in the East Africa region, are the conditions suitable for driving green energy adoption and expansion and supporting the call for an economic rebound?
PH: East African countries have made a lot of progress in creating an enabling environment for renewable energy expansion. For example in Rwanda, all PV components are exempt from VAT, and in Uganda and Tanzania PV models are exempt from VAT as well as import duties. East African countries are also committed to improving the ease of doing business, implementing various new reforms, and committing to over 90% electrification by 2030.
How would you summarize the impact of solar as a renewable and reliable energy source in East Africa?
PH: Power shortages cost African businesses 700 business hours every year–that is just under 90 business days. In Uganda, 82% of businesses experience power shortages every year. In Rwanda, it is 39% of companies and in Kenya, 89% of businesses experience power outages every year, and firms lose an average of 5% of the value of … total sales to electrical outages. Some individual firms report losing over 70% of their sales.
Solar power provides reliable energy and drastically decreases downtime, which means that previous time and opportunities lost due to power outages can now be spent doing business, making money, and rebuilding the economy.
PH: We have seen tremendous advantages across all industries where our customers have implemented solar.
In agriculture, one of the region’s largest flower exporters secured a 61% reduction in energy costs by integrating solar energy. Apart from freeing up cashflow to be used in other growth areas, [an] organization improves its carbon footprint and increases its standing as [a] responsible corporate [citizen].
In healthcare, there are more than 98,000 healthcare facilities in the sub-Saharan [region], but only 28% of these facilities have access to reliable electricity. One of our solar installations powers an HIV-testing and treatment facility which uses energy-intensive freezers required for storing vaccines. By using solar and battery energy storage, the customer reduced its power costs while also ensuring the operation of the cold storage for vaccines which support the treatment of over 2,200 patients every month.
In the retail sector, we installed solar panels at one of the largest commercial buildings in Rwanda. Sustainable energy now provides reliable electricity that reduced its power costs by over 50%–a critical cost saving in one of the industries hit hardest by lockdowns.
Another industry that’s under tremendous financial strain due to Covid-19 is the tourism industry. We installed solar panels at a leading hotel in Rwanda, offsetting the need for diesel generators; again saving costs and generating reliable electricity.
Lastly, the education sector has also benefited from our solar projects in the region. We installed the first solar carport in Rwanda, at the largest private university in the country. These are just some of our projects, but all our solar installations reduce costs and improve productivity–two things that will be critical for the region to recover from the economic contraction.
As one of the African-continent developers, what do you have to say about managing debt vulnerability, particularly during the pandemic? And do you have some measures or solutions in place to tackle these challenges?
PH: The Covid-19 pandemic amplified debt vulnerabilities in the region. Higher debt levels, weaker debt affordability, and low buffers pose significant challenges. The cost of renewable energy has always been a huge hurdle for Africa to adopt clean energy at scale. This will be more pronounced in the current economic climate.
At Solarise Africa, we have solutions that manage this debt risk so that Africa doesn’t have to sacrifice its green energy expansion, something that we have seen will be fundamental to the continent’s recovery. By addressing this critical value-chain need, we can help keep green energy adoption–specifically solar energy–on track.
Together with our partners, we offer innovative full-service solutions that cover designing, building, financing, and maintaining solar installations. It requires minimal capital expenditure and has short payback periods that help our clients save money. Our innovative financing solutions unlock possibilities and empower our partners to thrive and actively drive Africa’s progress.
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