EAC attracting off-grid and mini-grid energy investors, experts say

Solar panels at Kigali Heights roof top. Nadege Imbabazi.

Energy project developers and investors in the East African are upbeat about the opportunities that mini-grid and off-grid power projects.

As the region plays catch-up in generation capacity, investors say that there are multiple opportunities as well as an attractive environment in the region to grow its energy sector.

For instance, Equatorial Power, a firm in off-grid energy solutions, said that they are joining the Rwandan market later this year targeting productive clients.

Riccardo Ridolfi, co-founder and Chief Executive of Equatorial Power, said they are set to commission their first project this year.

“We are excited to be developing our mini grid sites in accordance with an innovative holistic business model, centered entirely on the productive use of energy, with some very interesting partners. We hope to commission our first site in Rwanda later this year,” Ridolfi said.

The firm is set to develop 5 mini-grid sites and is currently in the process to mobilise finances.

“In Rwanda, we are developing 5 mini grid sites and are finalising financing for our first project. In the DRC we have a number of mini-grids under development, notwithstanding uncertain times ahead – people will always need power. We are also working in Kenya and have begun exploring other markets,” he said.

Experts say that the opportunities have been buoyed by the progressive enabling business environment in the region.

Dr Rebekah Shirley, a researcher at Power for All and visiting researcher at Strathmore University in Kenya, said that aspects such as setting rural electrification targets has opened up the sector for investment.

“I think the region is setting itself apart as a progressive, enabling environment for energy sector development. Just look at the numbers. There are several active mini grid companies. East Africa, including Rwanda and Uganda, have the best in terms of setting national and rural electrification targets,” Dr. Shirley said.

Another firm, Factore, which de-risks and funds firms in the energy sector, attributes the investment attractiveness to clean energy ambitions in countries such as Rwanda.

Amanda DelCore, an Associate at the firm, said that among the ventures they are supporting in the region include a start-up in Rwanda seeking to make electric bikes.

“We make equity investments in companies working in East Africa, so there is lots of exciting work happening through the ventures in our portfolio. I am personally excited about the progress being made by a portfolio company called Ampersand,”

“They are making electric motos for the motorcycle taxi market, and are headquartered in Rwanda. They are building the foundation for a clean mobility future in East Africa, and early indication is that they are going to be very competitive with petrol motos,” DelCore said.

Ørjan Alexander Pedersen, Founder and Chief Operating Officer Empower New Energy, a firm in mini-grid, said that firms in the sector are now keen to be climate conscious. The firm is currently working on financing four projects in East Africa.

Such unique projects will be in focus at the 20th edition of the Future Energy East Africa conference and exhibition, formerly known as the East African Power Industry Convention, slated for September 12-13.

Access to energy will feature prominently at the event.

The energy forum comprises high-level, strategic conference focusing on energy access, finance, renewables and transmission and distribution as well as a trade expo with the latest technology for the power sector as well as free technical workshops.

Agencies

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