Amidst health crisis, energy transition and diversification of solar activities in Africa, the continent is at the centre of the development of the global solar market. The Norwegian Independent Power Producer (IPP) Scatec Solar has a strong presence in Africa and has recently started supplying containerised solar systems. In the following interview with Afrik 21, Jan Fourie, Managing Director and Vice Chairman of Development for Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, discusses Scatec Solar's strategy.
Afrik 21: Despite the easing of travel restriction measures, African countries are still facing the health crisis caused by Covid-19. And Scatec Solar owns several solar power plants on the continent. How does the company ensure the safety of its staff on the field?
Jan Fourie: Scatec Solar is taking precautionary measures at all of its sites to limit the spread of the virus, ensure the safety of people and guarantee the operational stability of its power plants. We all have a common responsibility to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, to protect the health of our employees, their families and society in general.
In most countries where Scatec Solar operates, power supply is defined as an essential service. Therefore, the production of electricity and the maintenance of the installations continue normally. To date, the company has not experienced any impact of the Covid-19 on its operating assets or on the supply of electricity to customers. It should be noted, however, that solar power plants require few operators. They are monitored and maintained remotely 24/7 by our company’s control and monitoring centre in Cape Town, South Africa.
What does the energy transition in Africa mean to you?
The history of Africa’s power generation industry shows the central role it plays in the economies of countries. So, if renewable energy is to be the future of the African continent, the private and public sectors must commit themselves to reconciling the material needs of the continent’s most vulnerable populations with the pursuit of environmental protection. Africa’s energy transition is not only an opportunity to increase access to electricity and ensure consistency in its distribution, but also represents a chance for the continent to develop in a conscious and sustainable manner.
Yet access to electricity remains a challenge in Africa. Is there a silver bullet?
No magic solution. There are many obstacles to improvement and development, but the sector is driven by dedicated actors. Commitment, technology and policy must drive growth in electricity access. Electricity generation and distribution is generally facilitated by utilities.
As an Independent Power Producer (IPP), how does Scatec Solar view the solar market in Africa?
Africa is Scatec Solar’s largest market. There is no doubt that the continent is at the centre of the development of the global solar market. The combination of production variables and the low rate of access to electricity is the key to this.
Scatec Solar holds a project pipeline of more than 2,000 MW in Africa and has sites representing approximately 950 MW ready for use in upcoming tenders in South Africa. In addition, Scatec Solar is developing a large pool of projects in many African markets, including Egypt, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya, Angola and several other countries on the continent. Some of these projects are based on bilateral negotiations with governments and utilities, while Scatec Solar also participates in selective tenders.
Scatec Solar has also increased its efforts to conclude agreements with private companies or non-governmental organizations, such as the United Nations. These are typically smaller projects, in the range of 5-20 MW, and the company is currently actively working on a cumulative portfolio of around 300 MW of such projects on the African continent.
Is the solar business profitable in Africa?
For large-scale and utility scale developments, investors and companies must be patient in their appetite for profits. Long-term power purchase agreements signed in Africa will yield benefits only if pre-agreed terms are respected. We are proud of our ability to deliver projects on time, with long-term factors always taken into account.
Scatec Solar seems to be less present in French-speaking Africa. Why?
As I said, Scatec Solar has a large pipeline of projects of more than 2,000 MW in several markets in Africa. The company has always and will continue to evaluate opportunities and bid for tenders on the African continent according to its market priorities.
You recently commissioned off-grid solar systems for the United Nations Mission in Southern Sudan (UNMISS). Does Scatec Solar intend to enter the off-grid sector in Africa?
We are extremely proud of the commissioning of this project and we are also completing our first solar hybrid project for IOM (International Organization for Migration) to provide solar energy to the humanitarian centre in Malakal, South Sudan. Our containerized “Release” solution will enable rapid off-grid operations.
What about the solar kit segment?
Scatec Solar has explored these opportunities in the past, but we are not engaged in this market today.
Interview by Jean Marie Takouleu