Africa’s Power Projects Need Private Funding

The early stages of power projects are not receiving sufficient funding and support in Africa.
Published: Tue 15 Jul 2014

The private sector has a critical role to play in energy development across Africa, says Niyi Robbin-Coker, CEO of Pawa Ples who spoke to Engerati at the recent African Energy Forum. Robbin-Coker has just recently moved into the private sector from his position as Sierra Leone’s Minister of Energy.

Early stage funding problematic

“Challenges are mirrored by opportunities, says Robbin-Coker, “The number one challenge is putting together the visibility studies that allow early stage funding of the project.”

He points out that there is insufficient funding for the early stage of projects. While development finance institutions provide some funding on the pre–visibility side, it is not always enough to get the project off the ground. “Focus from pre-visibility to bankable visibility remains a tricky area. Private money is not quite ready to get involved with that area and governments are focusing on other priorities.”

However, Robbin-Coker points out that he is starting to see some significant headway being made as more investors are taking an interest in the early development stages of the project.

Another critical area of development for Western Africa is power sharing via interconnecting lines. “This is critical for the overall economic and social development in this region.” Interconnection is the only way West Africa is going to be able to move forward with regards to energy development but the private sector is reluctant to get involved with early stage projects as they see too much risk, explains Robbin-Coker.

“Administrative and bureaucratic risks are real in projects. If these things are moving too slowly, it can destroy an entire project.”

Interconnector challenges

While interconnector power lines will draw from rich hydropower sources, hydropower is seasonal. Energy loads have the potential to drop dramatically during the dry season. It is for this reason that Robbin-Coker suggests a base load which will improve reliability during dry periods. “A base load, using gas and clean coal, is less subject to variation. Solar is also helpful but no-one is going to build a 200MW solar farm any time soon.”

Another challenge is connecting the areas of demand to the source. Sometimes these distances can be vast.

Robbin-Coker points out that while interconnector challenges are being overcome, individual countries should take the opportunity to develop their own locally produced power to maintain a certain level of independence. “This will provide energy security for many African countries. These areas should be looking at developing biomass from their agricultural sector. Mini-grids will also help to build energy security.”