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Access to power supply tops African business agendas

Access to power supply tops African business agendas

Aside from the availability of skills and the need to create a skilled workforce, businesses in Africa are acutely aware of the impact of a lack of a fully functional electricity grid.

Dealing regularly with decision makers from businesses in Africa, communications consultants focused on the continent have noted the prominence of issues such as mobile phone usage, quality of technology infrastructure (including broadband access and mobile network coverage), as well as education.

In 2015 Djembe Communications, a consultancy with offices in Angola, Ghana, Morocco, Mozambique, and Nigeria, launched a research firm - Djembe Insights - after co-hosting roundtables across the continent alongside Forbes insights.

Based on feedback and information gathered, Mitchell Prather, MD of Djembe Communications, says one of Africa's greatest challenges, in terms of technology, is the development of an electricity grid with sufficient reach across the continent.

"Widespread access can be achieved through a comprehensive roadmap that includes the use of LNG (which is flared due to an excess of supply) and investment in cross-border electricity infrastructure. Access to electricity for all will transform education, digital communications, online retail, and greatly improve health in rural areas," says Prather.

Recently mobile telecommunications infrastructure provider IHS Towers Group commissioned a report Power Up, Delivering Renewable Energy in Africa, which found that the continent requires up to US$90-billion to meet its current energy shortfall – with additional research claiming that if current power consumption trends continue, it is estimated that by 2030, 655 million people in Africa will be without access to power.

This is fuelling demand for alternative energy sources and, as a result, there is more activity around services and solutions that cater to the growing need.

Harvesting power

For example, Build Africa Corporation, a Cape-based alternative energy company, is focused on supplying off-the-grid energy via its Power Up system.

Its value proposition is the distribution of a system that addresses what CEO Miles Oates describes as the shortcomings of existing technologies within the inverter and backup power markets - including low battery life, insufficient power and fire-risks with the new lithium-type technologies.

Power UP is a hybrid system that harvests power from a variety of sources, including solar panels, windmills, generators, or hydro, or the grid itself.

Miles Oates, CEO of Build Africa, says, "We are offering the consumer the only high-tech control unit specific to crystal battery technology, with a similar look to an Apple phone and a control system just a little larger than the average laptop."

Oates emphasises the environmentally-conscious aspect of the offering, describing it as "the greenest of alternative energy solutions" because it does not omit gases, radiation and has a low fire risk – this is unlike other acid, gel and lithium-based systems, he adds.

Build Africa has approximately 2500 Power Up units installed in Africa and approximately 800 in South Africa.

The firm is determined to improve energy access, and points to a statistic that claims 15% of the world's population lives in Africa, yet only 3% of global electricity supply is consumed on the continent.

PwC launched its Electrification Beyond The Grid analysis paper in Johannesburg in May, and advised governments to develop integrated energy access plans, and create enabling environments for off-grid solutions.

This is something business executives agree on.

Issam Darwish, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of IHS Towers Group, said, "From solar-powered hospitals in Lagos to wind farms in Lake Turkana, viable renewable energy solutions are becoming a vital part of the continent's energy mix. Through a host of off-grid technologies, increased renewable energy capabilities are beginning to provide direct and affordable power to rural and urban regions which have traditionally been beyond the reach of a traditional electricity grid system. In addition, innovative "pay-as-you-go" contracts, affordable technologies such as pico-solar units, and remote utility management software, are all examples of smart alternatives to the conventional grid approach."

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