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CEO’s letter: Simon Hodson reflects on his leadership of Gridworks

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Dear friends and colleagues,

Last year, I made the difficult decision to inform the Gridworks Board of my desire to step down as CEO. Now in my sixth year in the role, I’ve decided to pursue personal and family responsibilities that require more of my time than is compatible with my current position. I will leave at the end of March. 

I’d like to take this opportunity to share a little about my experience of leading this brilliant company, about some of the businesses we’ve been able to support and discuss the shift in attitudes we’ve seen towards electricity network infrastructure, in Africa and beyond.  

My Gridworks journey began back in 2018 when I held initial conversations with CDC (now known as British International Investment) about leading a new company focused on investing in electricity networks. Things moved quickly after that. By the end of the following year, we had publicly launched Gridworks, made our first investment and established market awareness about the necessity of prioritising network infrastructure.  

As it stands today, Gridworks is a team of dedicated sector experts, with an impressive portfolio and pipeline, working at the vanguard of the electricity network sector on the continent.  

We were founded on a clear-eyed analysis of the energy status quo that had been failing many African nations, and a desire to provide a solution. The analysis identified that, despite recent investment and improvements in electricity generation, the lack of progress in developing the networks necessary to deliver that power was a major bottleneck to economic and social development across the continent.  

With the backing of our shareholder, British International Investment, we’ve worked tirelessly to support the growth of the sector. Our vision was to establish a pathway to electricity networks in Africa becoming an asset class that can attract commercial capital, as it does in Europe, the Americas and Asia. While there is still some way to go, I am convinced that we are at a tipping point in terms of the evolution of the market.  

With Ugandan Energy Minister, Ruth Nankabirwa, signing the agreement to create Amari, Africa’s first privately financed transmission project

I’m incredibly proud of the part our team has played in demonstrating the commercial potential of African network investment. A good example is our ground-breaking work in developing the Amari project in Uganda, one of Africa’s first privately financed transmission projects. Transmission infrastructure is essential for a better climate, economy and electricity access, but funding the lengthy development process to give rise to investable opportunities remains in woefully short supply across the continent. Amari can serve to demonstrate a replicable model that can unlock critical projects across Africa.

We’ve also made progress across our distributed renewable energy projects, which are contributing to the development of Africa’s energy sector by demonstrating new business models. In early 2023, we closed our investment in Virunga Power, a company that develops, invests and operates hydropower-backed rural utilities that bring reliable and sustainable electricity to communities in East and Southern Africa. 

Launching Gridworks’ first Development Report with colleagues from our investee companies, Virunga Power and Sustainable Power Solutions
 

With our support and expertise, the management team at Virunga Power has created Weza Power. Weza aims to bring grid power to over two-thirds of Burundi, which is one of the world’s poorest countries, where only 12% of the population has access to electricity. It will be the first new private-sector electricity distribution company operating at a national level in sub-Saharan Africa for a decade.

During my time as CEO at Gridworks, I’ve seen a marked shift in public attitudes towards the role of electricity networks – and particularly transmission infrastructure – as part of the clean energy transition. Well-run, stable grids are seen as fundamental to our ability to absorb more intermittent renewables and to connect areas of high renewable generation potential with areas of high, and growing, demand. At every major conference I’ve attended recently, the “no transition without transmission” message (originally coined by Bill Gates) has come through loud and clear. I believe that the work we’ve been doing across the continent can provide important lessons as the focus on network investment grows.

Addressing the UK Africa Ministerial Roadshow in 2023
 

This global recognition of electricity networks as key to the energy transition is welcome. However, we shouldn’t forget how important well-functioning networks are to Africa, where most businesses struggle daily to deal with unreliable power and only half the continent has access to electricity.

Every time my work has taken me to the continent, I’ve seen the frustrations of people and businesses struggling to achieve their potential in the face of a wholly inadequate essential service. A service which we in richer countries take for granted. Our ambition was, and will remain, to establish precedents for new business models that will mobilise the billions of dollars of capital needed to drive economic growth, boost energy access and deliver a clean energy transition. Ultimately, this will transform the lives of millions across the continent.

Residents of Isiro in northern Congo, who will benefit from 24/7 electricity for the first time thanks to Gridworks’ creation of the greenfield utility, Moyi Power 
 

I’m leaving the company at an exciting time. There’s increased interest in our sector, our portfolio companies are reaching new milestones and our pipeline is as strong as ever. I know that the incredible team we have built is perfectly placed to deliver success.

I’d like to thank my colleagues, Board members, advisors and our shareholder for their incredible support in bringing us to where we are today. The Gridworks family may be evolving, but it’s in highly capable hands and I look forward to seeing it continue to grow in future.

Best wishes,

Simon 

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