Welcome to my new year update. I’d like to tell you about the progress Gridworks made in 2022 developing and investing in Africa’s electricity networks. I’ll also look forward to 2023 and the opportunities we see in our sector.
2022 was an exciting time for us. Gridworks is playing an important, and increasingly high-profile, role in developing and investing in infrastructure which is crucial to helping the continent meet its economic, social and climate goals. In particular, it’s been a source of great pride that we were able to announce two new projects in 2022.
In June we publicly launched Amari Power Transmission, a US$90 million pilot project for private investment in Uganda’s electricity transmission sector that our team has been developing for more than two years. And in December, we announced the signing of an investment of up to US$50 million in Virunga Power, a distributed renewable electricity company with projects that will serve rural communities in Southern and Eastern Africa.
Both of these investments, in their own ways, will be transformative and impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. They will also be important reference projects in the transmission sector and in the distributed renewable energy sector because they establish precedents for new business models. This market shaping role is a key part of our mandate and one of the reasons that our shareholder British International Investment (BII) took the bold step to create Gridworks. I want to pay tribute to BII for the ongoing support that they provide us as we pave the way for more investment in transmission and distribution in Africa.
The Amari project involves Gridworks developing and funding the upgrade of four key substations on Uganda’s electricity grid, including the Tororo substation (pictured above). The project has taken several years to develop and will benefit households and businesses in Uganda and ensure that high quality renewable power is available to drive economic development. When we reach financial close Amari will be among the first privately financed transmission project of its type in Africa. It demonstrates a growing interest in private participation in the sector as African governments increasingly look for the means to fund the large scale infrastructure expansion necessary to underpin industrialisation.
Transmission infrastructure is essential for economic growth, electricity access and a green energy transition, but funding for it remains in woefully short supply in Africa. Amari can demonstrate a model in Africa that has been used successfully on other continents.
I’m really excited about the potential for Virunga Power, our new investment which develops, invests and operates hydropower-backed utilities that bring reliable and sustainable electricity to rural communities in East and Southern Africa. Our investment of up to US$50 million will fund new projects, including in Burundi, Malawi, and Kenya as well as supporting the growth of the Zengamina hydro-backed rural utility in northern Zambia (pictured below).
These countries have very low rural electrification rates – only 2% in the case of Burundi – so Virunga Power can play a transformative role in the communities it serves. Virunga Power often works with newly connected communities to generate additional income by using electricity for industrial and commercial use. For example, it will collaborate with local financing and community development partners to help customers buy machinery that improves farming yields and boosts income. As our new hydro-backed rural utility platform, we want Virunga Power to help close the energy access gap and unlock economic opportunities for people across the region.
Ever since Gridworks was created by BII in 2019, development impact has been at the core of our mandate. The projects we announced in 2022 have the potential to create significant impact, through:
- access to clean energy, particularly in underserved and rural areas;
- employment, through reliable energy supply; and
- carbon emissions reductions.
Through our portfolio and pipeline, Gridworks also plays a crucial role in supporting public and private sector partners, testing models and applying learning which we hope will lead to more viable and sustainable energy systems.
Our portfolio saw some exciting developments in 2022. Our longest-standing investment is Sustainable Power Solutions (SPS), a company providing solar energy and battery solutions to commercial & industrial users across sub-Saharan Africa, both on and off grid. In the last year, SPS has increased its installed generation capacity, with many more projects currently under construction. Its operations have saved the equivalent of 80,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
SPS has continued to strengthen its position in its existing markets of South Africa, Namibia, Kenya and in the Seychelles, where it is now the largest provider of power after the national utility. Last summer, SPS built a new distributed solar PV plant that will displace diesel used by the Indian Ocean Tuna factory in Mahe, which is Seychelles’ largest employer. This year we expect to see it sign deals in new markets and to test new business models.
As markets evolve and regulations are liberalised in South Africa and Namibia, SPS has been developing opportunities to help customers sell excess power into the market, as well as building solar PV sites that wheel power to customers over national networks. This move towards a decentralised distribution model is beginning to take place out of necessity in some of our markets, and with an established portfolio of commercial clients and access to distributed generation sites, SPS is well positioned to play a pioneer role in the sector.
Moyi Power is an ambitious program to build greenfield, solar-powered utilities that will provide electricity to almost a million people in three isolated cities in the north of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Moyi will involve an initial investment of approximately $120m to construct the first phase of the project. The decentralised utility companies that this creates will then have the capacity to grow over time to serve customers in each city. The Moyi Power team has been working hard during 2023 to complete the network design, to carry out environmental and social consultations with local communities and to develop a Livelihood Restoration Plan for affected citizens. All of this work is necessary in order to develop the project responsibly and set affordable sustainable tariffs. Financing will take place in 2023 and the project is targeting financial close in 2024
Moyi is a pioneer project for large scale “metro-grid” projects. We believe that this model of a standalone, decentralised utility with a service obligation to the local community can spread to many more cities across DRC; and it is also replicable in a number of other countries in Africa.
Our pipeline has grown this year to reflect the work undertaken with a number of African governments to address their countries’ energy infrastructure needs. With billions of dollars needed for electricity network improvements, several far-sighted governments recognise that new forms of funding and reform are needed, with private sector investment a key part of this thinking. We look forward to providing updates on our activities in 2023 as the year progresses.
Every region around the world has attracted private sector investment in their networks to drive economic development in the past, so why shouldn’t Africa? We want private investment in transmission and distribution to be a recognisable asset class in Africa and for Gridworks to be at the forefront of the market.
We work in a challenging sector, in challenging markets, but we go into 2023 with a growing team that has embraced these challenges. I’m delighted with the progress in our portfolio and optimistic about our pipeline. I look forward to working with governments and private sector partners in 2023 to improve the quantity and quality of power for Africa’s people and businesses.
Happy New Year