solar panels with wind turbines in desert in Africa

19 Jun 2024

Powering progress: Financing Africa's electrification

Despite Africa having 60% of the best solar resources in the world, it only has 1% of installed solar PV capacity. And some 600 million people in Africa don't have access to energy- with detrimental developmental consequences.

The need is huge, but so is the untapped opportunity of Africa’s energy revolution. Revego's CIO says the total investment for renewable energy in Sub-Saharan Africa for the next eight years could reach about 193 billion US dollars.

In episode 9 of The Current, we discuss what needs to be done to mobilise the necessary capital to electrify Africa. Host, Iman Rappetti, is joined by Ana Hajduka Shields, CEO of Africa GreenCo, Ziyaad Sarang, Revego's CIO and Brian Irvine, Investec's global head of Export and Agency Finance.

The Current Ep 9 | Powering progress: Financing Africa's energy transition

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Iman Rappetti is joined by Ana Hajduka Shields, CEO of Africa GreenCo, Ziyaad Sarang, Revego's CIO and Brian Irvine, Investec's global head of Export and Agency Finance, to discuss the innovative financing mechanisms, and regional power trading needed to capitalise on Africa's energy revolution. 

Podcast transcript: scroll to the areas that interest you

  • IR: Iman Rappetti, journalist and host
  • AH: Ana Hajduka, Africa GreenCo CEO and founder
  • ZS: Ziyaad Sarang, Revego Fund Managers, CIO
  • BI: Brian Irvine, Investec, global Head of Export and Agency Finance
  • 00:00: Intro

    IR: For centuries, Africa's abundant natural resources have powered progress around the world. From minerals to agriculture, these raw materials have fuelled global development. Yet the continent itself has not reaped the same benefits. Africa's history is littered with significant challenges in many aspects of infrastructure that the Western world might take for granted.

    Among those challenges is energy access and reliability, resulting in over 600 million people on the continent living without electricity. The energy deficit has hindered economic growth, limited educational opportunities, and impacted healthcare in many African nations. Despite these challenges, Africa holds immense potential for a renewable energy revolution.

    The continent is still rich in resources and the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that renewable energy could supply up to 67% of Africa's electricity by 2030. Vital investment in the African energy transition is increasing but remains a critical hurdle, and bridging the investment gap is crucial for scaling up energy projects, creating jobs and ensuring a resilient energy future for Africa.

    Welcome to The Current, an Investec Focus Radio podcast on South Africa's energy transition. I'm Iman Rappetti, and in this 10-part series, we've been having conversations with industry experts from inside Investec and beyond about how South Africa can move towards more equitable and sustainable energy solutions.

    In this penultimate episode, we explore the obstacles and opportunities in the continent's energy sector, and discuss the desperate need for infrastructure investment, the role of private capital, and the significant potential of renewable energy.

    Joining us are the CIO of a R2 billion energy fund, the head of Investec's Africa Structured Debt and Trade Solutions, and - taking a break from a sailing holiday to join us from a coffee shop somewhere on the Mediterranean coast - the founder and CEO of SADC's first renewable energy trader and buyer.

  • 02:25: Meet the guests

    IR: Let's welcome my guests.

    AH: My name is Ana Hajduka. I'm the CEO of Africa GreenCo, and we are a member of the Southern African Power Pool.

    ZS: My name is Ziyaad Sarang. I'm the Chief Investment Officer of Revego Fund Managers. We are a fund manager based in South Africa that invests in operating renewable energy assets across Sub-Saharan Africa.

    BI: My name is Brian Irvine. I look after a cluster of specialised lending businesses focused on the continent. 

  • 02:58: All the resources and so little power

    IR: The starting point for our conversation is the enormous challenge that Africa faces when it comes to energy. According to the UN, 80%  of the world's population who don't have access to electricity live in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    Overcoming this energy poverty will require a monumental effort and is an urgent requirement given its impact on so many facets of society.

    BI: The deficit in Africa is enormous and well-documented. If we look at the studies that the World Bank has done, I think just to maintain the current infrastructure, and this is not about talking and facilitating growth, it's more than 120 billion dollars per year.

    So the requirement is desperate. It's very difficult to think of any sector that would not be impacted and held back through the lack of electrification and access to energy. I mean, as South Africans, we've got a very real experience of what load sharing means and how that impacts ourselves, our workplace, our families.

    But if we had to talk about specific sectors, healthcare is one that certainly comes to mind. And if we look at the continent and the various countries, the lack of access to primary healthcare is literally, hundreds of millions of people and as a consequence is obviously very desperate and that's why we see mortality rates that we do and just basic care like x-rays or treatment, which people do not have access to due to a lack of energy.

    We think about Africa, we talk about the breadbasket of the world, the only way to unlock that is to move from subsistence farming into commercial production. For that you need aggregators. You need to bring small farmers together so that they can combine produce, introduce technology so that they can produce all around the year, and then create an infrastructure, all which is dependent on energy, to be able to export locally, regionally, and ultimately internationally. So those are just some of the examples. I think it's quite clear the impact. 

    ZS: What you want is universal access to electricity across the continent to not only increase economic development, but also increase educational opportunities in Africa, universities, schools, tertiary education, primary education suffers when there isn't access to electricity, particularly when the world so digitally connected without electricity, you just don't get onto that information super-highway. 

  • 05:25: What's the cause of Africa's energy deficit?

    IR: Let's bring you in here. Ana Africa's lack of energy can be attributed to a combination of factors that vary across the continent. Can you give us the main culprits? 

    AH: I believe the main culprit is the fact that the state utilities are experiencing significant financial challenges and are unable to act as credit worthy buyers in their own right without significant sovereign support to guarantee their power purchase obligations. So that this lack of credit worthy entities to buy and the lack of a market into which one can sell new generation is, in my view, the key culprit.

    So we cannot continue bringing generation on board in such a manner, whereby the fiscal has to guarantee every single new generation available in the market. Which is why South Africa is currently embarking on a very important liberalisation of the electricity sector as foreshadowed by the electricity bill; to open-up that market and facilitate non-state-backed new generation.

  • 06:34: What's hampering investment?

    IR: But the continent facing such a glaring problem, the obvious question might be, why has it been so difficult to take advantage of such a large opportunity? Ziyaad, what's standing in the way?

    ZS: I think what has got in the way of investment in the past was the enabling environment was not in place. You need certain characteristics for attracting investment. You need a legislative framework to allow the building of power stations, et cetera.

    You need the legislative framework and property rights to own assets. Those are just the core building blocks of an enabling environment. You need good regulation. You need attractive financial markets. And if you have those ingredients in place, you're able to attack financing, entrepreneurs, and risk takers.

    That means you have people coming together with capital to provide services. Let's take a live example- In South Africa, our president got rid of the cap on private power.

    So you had an enabling environment, legislative framework allowed private power to be generated. And all of a sudden you have over 5,000 megawatts of private power being generated today.

  • 07:44: Moving away from fossil fuels

    IR: The transformational challenges that the energy sector faces are underscored by the fact that Africa still relies extensively on fossil fuels, and renewables are still just a glimmer on the horizon, with just a few countries beginning to exploit their potential. Ziyaad elaborates…

     ZS: Renewable energy sources are not yet fully exploited, despite the vast potential we have on the continent. The countries that are leading it, South Africa, obviously number one.

    Then you've got Kenya, Morocco. They're making significant strides in electrification, primarily through renewable energy. The transition towards renewable energy in these countries is driven by necessity and strategic economic considerations.

  • 08:26: Africa to leapfrog to green industrialisation

    IR: Is there an opportunity for the continent to leapfrog to green industrialization?

     ZS: Absolutely. I like to use the example of the parallel market that developed in mobile phones. And if you look at how mobile phones developed in Africa, it leapfrogged all of the cable technology in the telecoms industry.

    I see this parallel for renewable energy. We benefit from the latest technology. At the cheapest price. Give an example. If you look at solar panel prices over the last decade, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, panel prices fell by 82%. That's significant. So you can re-power the grid at a much cheaper rate now than you did 10 years ago.

    That allows you to put on power very quickly. And from that perspective, do lots of projects at scale, which is absolutely needed.

    And when you look at renewable energy, it offers obviously a cleaner and more sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, which can reduce environmental degradation and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

  • 09:32: The "beautiful" convergence of climate concerns, economics and energy efficiencies

    IR: For Ana, climate change mitigation is just one part of a very exciting confluence of global initiatives that holds great promise for the continent.

    AH: The mitigation of climate change would not be enough to make it economically appetising as it is at the moment. The reason why it's becoming so prominent is because it's cheaper to deliver on, quicker; the private sector could take a lead on it, and most importantly, the private sector that is taking lead on it in South Africa, those companies that are mainly industrial and commercial companies that need to comply with global export and other criteria to make their commodities more competitive on an international market, which currently requires significant proof of decarbonization targets.

    So if you look at all that in an ecosystem, then it's a complete convergence of economic interests between energy decarbonization targets of the critical minerals industries within the GDP growth of most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, and the global climate targets.

    Africa's role in the overall global energy transition cannot be overstated. Global energy transition can bring sufficient benefits to the continent because it holds 30% of the world's mineral reserves that are required for the carbonisation to take place in the first place. So, the renewable energy element is just the one piece of this wider, beautiful convergence that is taking place at the moment.

  • 11:19: Africa's riches need to be harnessed

  • 12:19: Innovative financing- Export and credit agency finance

    IR: And natural follow up to that would be, we've got everything we need on this continent to make everything that we need. And so 600 million people shouldn't be without electricity.

    AH: Absolutely. But that convergence really took place only in the last few years. We're talking about global targets that are actually being implemented only now. Now that we are facilitating the private sector taking a lead on actually generating, supplying, and aggregating that should take us into a realm of different possibilities.

    IR: But that promise doesn't get fulfilled just by having an abundance of materials or a sincere need to uplift communities. It requires time, planning and of course, financing, all on a massive scale while it's arguably never been more attractive for the private sector to invest in Africa's energy infrastructure. The size of some of the projects in question requires a different approach.

    BI: Generation is probably most suitable. For commercial viability and to be financed on a ring fence project basis, but it's all the other infrastructure to take the generated power and distribute it to the masses. And I think that that is important.

    Over 90% of all infrastructure that is required on the continent are not commercially viable projects. It's the government's constitutional obligation to deliver to its constituents this infrastructure that is so desperately required in this instance to facilitate distribution of energy.

    The sovereigns are already highly indebted. So it's very difficult to gear and finance these projects off the sovereign's balance sheet. And that's where the ECA or Export and Credit Agency finance as a product brings to bear global capital markets. So, you're financing infrastructure in Africa without taking the Africa risk. And that is how we can mobilise the required capital.

  • 13:14: Acre Import Capital- A real-world example

    IR: Providing a real-world example of export and credit agency finance is Acre Impact Capital, a fund in which Investec is a prominent partner. Brian dives into more details about the fund and illustrates how it works.

    BI: Investec was the first to invest into the fund as a limited partner. What is important and significant of this fund is it's a first ever export impact fund.

    The investment mandate of the fund covers healthcare, green cities, green transportation, renewable energy, et cetera. Now, Ziyaad can tell you - he looks after our fund initiatives business - raising capital, given the economic and the world environment that we've been in the last couple of years, is exceptionally difficult.

    And investors are looking for track record, deployment, pipeline, et cetera. So we're very proud that we managed to reach first close, which is at $100 million dollars.

    The fund size we're targeting is $300 million, and the true intention of this fund is to enable, so very deliberately, and I've got to be very clear about this, we, together with the founding partners, deliberately created an open platform fund.

    What this means is that it's not Investec's fund. We're just the anchor investor. But what does it mean is that we took the very first step and invested as an LP.

    That gave a lot of credibility to the fund and its fundraising. And people looking to big commercial banks like Investec would take a lot of comfort from our due diligence and our patience in which we evaluated this investment opportunity and that attracted significant other investors.

    So originally the Pan Africa Infrastructure Development Group, which is the UK government-supported ACRE and the initiative. We were followed by FSD Africa, again, UK government, the EIB, European Investment Bank.

    Has come in with a significant contribution. And again, all of this adds to the momentum. We've had our peers here in South Africa invest in the fund as well. And for second class, we're really looking at multilaterals, development institutions, first time impact investors, family offices. It's beyond commercial banks.

    And Ana uses the word convergence, which has become such a topical word, which is exactly that it's converging all of this capital. And there is so much appetite for responsible lending.

    With regards to what we're targeting, if you've got content from an exporting country, that exporting country would guarantee 85 to 95 percent of the debt.

    Let's say it's 85. So now for 85% of a project you're taking UK government risk or Swiss government risk, that remaining 15% is uncovered Africa sovereign risk, which is a challenge. And this fund was specifically created to invest in that uncovered piece. Now you can't do the project unless you get that 15%, and this fund will invest in that.

    So the math is simple: 15 unlocks 85, it's a multiple of 5.6. If we raise $300 million, that's how we get to $2 billion worth of infrastructure represented with 15 to 20 projects across the continent. 

  • 16:24: The role of green bonds in financing energy infrastructure

    IR: Another significant tool for investment in infrastructure is green bonds. Ziyaad gives a quick overview of how they work, but for a more in-depth conversation, you can listen to episode three of Investec Focus Radio's Future Impact podcast series.

    ZS: Green bonds are basically a loan to a company or government where there's an obligation to use that funds for something that's good for the planet.

    That goes to the likes of renewable energy projects or other sustainable projects and acres, one example of the type of projects would be used.

    We've seen a lot of bank funding that has come through alongside the DFIs, the Developing Financing Institutions. From that perspective, the private sector, along with government in terms of them issuing green bonds, et cetera, would form most of the infrastructure investment within Africa.

  • 17:15: Equity markets need to play a bigger role

    IR: Export financing, working hand in hand with developmental finance, these are well suited to impact investing. But then what about public markets? Have equity markets featured at all when it comes to raising capital for Africa's green energy transition?

     ZS: You know, we think that is an area where a lot of innovation and work needs to be done to attract capital. I'll give you an example. If you look at the size of the combined market capitalization of the stock markets and public.

    That's about a hundred times greater than the balance sheets of the multinational development banks. That's a significant amount of capital that we need to tap in. And almost zero has been tapped thus far.

    In South Africa, which is the largest market for renewable energy investment, there was only one listed bond that came to market; over R300 billion has been invested in the market and none of it is public. It's something that we need to work on something that we are working on. I don't think there's a lack of appetite for investors to come in.

    It's all about the environment. So, you've got a large amount of resources in the world that sits in Africa, you haven't exploited it. You've got a massive amount of capital that looks for good projects and capital will flow through to those projects if the environment is in place. So we've got a lot of work to do to attract that amount of capital.

    A lot of education is required. To institutional investors to try and get them more comfortable to take views with their investment capital in the public market to, to package projects in the private market and bring those to the public market.

    So, the opportunity is there, the will is there, the technology is there, it's a matter of creating the environments within the different countries and South Africa is somewhere that you can use as a base to develop. South Africa has probably the deepest capital markets on the Sub-Saharan African market.

    And from that perspective, there's a great amount of potential to tap public markets and particularly equity and capital.

  • 19:13: Education and derisking is a key factor to attract capital

    IR: Like Ziyaad, Ana believes that education is a key factor in driving Africa's energy transformation.

    AH:  Education of institutional and other investors is needed more than ever. Because it's not only how do we finance clean energy and renewable energy and solar PV, but also how do we better assess the risk allocation that is now new in the market when the private sector is becoming a more significant buyer.

    Whether traders and aggregators like GreenCo, like us, or whether directly commercial and industrial buyers themselves. For example, Green Cross Capital Base, we also have DFIs as investors in order for the lenders that are lending to the IPPs that we are buying from, to have a different risk appetite when they look at who the shareholders are and how strongly rated they are.

     We also have AA-minus rated guarantee provider, guaranteeing our payment obligations again to give comfort to the lenders. But most importantly, I think it's not only about the regulatory environment and effectively teaching institutional and other investors about new market models, but it's also about diversifying the risk on a regional basis.

    South Africa sits at the heart of a regional Southern African Power Pool. The regional Southern African Power Pool has an incredible need for more electricity supply. It has a huge demand, and a deficit in generation.

    So, if one starts looking at an opportunity to invest in a renewable energy project in South Africa, and then looks at not only the South African market, but the wider regional market into which one could supply that power in case of any difficulties of payment or demand in the country alone, that's how we derisk these projects without any backup of the sovereign.

    You start pooling regional demand and pooling regional sovereign risk, and by doing that, you start attracting more financing because the risks become minimal because the demand requirements are so huge.

    IR: Our conversation with Ana, Ziyaad, and Brian will continue after this.

    PROMO: Investec's Export and Agency finance team bring a unique perspective to the export finance market. As a project developer and equipment lessor in our own right, we understand firsthand the challenges our customers face in mobilising projects and infrastructure investments.

    If you're based in Sub-Saharan Africa and are looking for export credit or tied commercial loans to make a lasting impact, click on the link in the podcast notes or search for "Investec Export Finance".

  • 22:30: Regional power pools and trading of energy

  • 24:19: South Africa to benefit from cross-border trading

    IR: The liberalisation of electricity markets in Sub-Saharan Africa has bolstered the work of the Southern African Power Pool, a block whose membership comprises regional governments and traders like GreenCo with the aim of becoming a fully integrated, competitive energy market and a provider of sustainable energy solutions for the Sadec region and beyond.

    Ana gives a brief explanation of how GreenCo trades energy into the power pool.

    AH: We trade on a daily basis and the competitive markets include the day ahead market, the intraday, the monthly, the weekly, and recently the balancing market. We see volumes in the region of 150 to 300 megawatts per hour.

    That is not large compared to the Nordic precedents, but it's increasingly growing. There is a difference between so-called competitive versus bilateral markets.

    Bilateral is when, for example, Eskom sells on a bilateral basis to Mozambique, or we, for example, currently are buying from a state utility in the region and importing it bilaterally on behalf of an industrial mining entity in Zambia to alleviate the load-sheading that Zambia is experiencing at the moment.

    IR: So using that example, how could South Africa potentially benefit from cross-border electricity trading?

    AH: South Africa has a utility with significant challenges. It requires a significant amount of new generation and most importantly, new transmission investment. And in order to especially finance transmission, you need to link it to an integrated generation transmission and trading cross border trading approach.

    Because by doing that, you are facilitating the ability to pull sovereign risk, increase bankability, and therefore fund transmission on an off-balance sheet basis.

    South Africa simply doesn't have the balance sheet anymore, because of other priorities in education, in water supply, et cetera, to bank or to support the required investment needed to bring all the transmission investments on board.

    So, linking any domestic transmission investments to a regional sub-interconnect, and therefore, diversifying the new available capacity across the region will facilitate the ability for the banks and the investor to come up with a model that is truly off-balance sheet from the National Treasury of South Africa. And that's the only way to do it at scale.

    And if we don't deal with the transmission problem, we cannot bring new generation on board to the required scale. 

  • 25:41: C&I project for commercial off-take

    IR: Whilst those benefits are future-focused, Revego's investments in energy projects are up and running. Nine operating assets have most recently been joined by a notable addition.

    ZS: It's our first project that is a development asset investment. It's a 150 megawatt PV solar project in Free State. What's so impressive about it is that it is one of the first commercial and industrial projects that sells power to commercial off-takers. 

  • 26:10: In crisis comes opportunity - 193bn dollars in opportunity

    IR: There's a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. In the midst of difficulty lies opportunity. Africa's energy sector certainly has its share of difficulty, but it's arguably outweighed by the immense opportunity that its transition offers. It's an opportunity that not only has the potential to uplift education, healthcare and industry across an entire continent, but one that promises returns for those investors who stake a claim in South Africa’s energy.

    BI: I think the reality is that the minority of commercially viable projects established PPP frameworks like we have in South Africa does not really exist as much on the rest of the continent.

    In order to unlock that, I really think every party has a role to play and to get together and just making sure that where sovereigns do need to contribute, it happens in a responsible manner.

    And I think that is where the world has got the capital to deploy. We need platforms like ACOE, we need banks and funds and aggregators to make sure that capital that is attracted is actually deployed into viable projects and making sure that they do happen. And I think it's a very exciting time, it's a huge opportunity.

    ZS: As Revego, we're very excited to issue an upcoming white paper that outlines the total investment for renewable energy in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    For the period 2023 to 2031, the amount is significant. It could reach about 193 billion US dollars over that period. And what it emphasises is that public funding alone is not sufficient to meet the need.

    So it is necessary to come up with innovative mechanisms, particularly financing mechanisms, that can mobilise capital from various sources. So I'd like to leave you with this message, one of optimism and opportunity. Africa's energy sector is at a pivotal stage, offering various potential for growth and innovation.

    By embracing renewable energy and efficient financing mechanisms, we can significantly advance Africa's electrification, economic and sustainable development goals.

    AH: South Africa sits within the context of this incredibly fast-growing and evolving regional energy market environment.

    And I stress that word regional. It's a market environment that has reached a convergence of economic interest between what is required globally, from the decarbonization side and what is required locally when it comes to achieving decarbonization target.

    We believe that Southern African Power Pool market growth and imminent integration with East African Power Pool provides a unique opportunity for South Africa to leverage its access to the regional market for attracting more domestic investment. So taking that power ecosystem context into account is really key.

    South Africa often looks internally and domestically only, because of its huge scale and size compared to its neighbours. However, that scale and size of required generation need is huge in the neighbouring countries as well.

    That will allow South Africa to achieve investment not only in itself, but investment on an off-balance sheet basis. South Africa should not be replicating the REIPPP’s contingent liability impact for new generation and transmission investments because it cannot do so.

    And the realisation that there is this limited country fiscal space is what necessitates linking the national investment plans with the regional demand.

    Thanks for listening to this episode of The Current brought to you by Investec Focus Radio. In our final episode, we review the series for more insights into South Africa's energy transition.

    You can find all episodes of The Current on the Investec website or wherever you get your podcasts. If you enjoyed this episode, please rate it, leave a review, and tell your friends and colleagues.

    The views expressed are those of the contributors at the time of publication and do not necessarily represent the views of the firm and should not be taken as advice or recommendations.

    Investec corporate and institutional banking, a division of Investec Bank Limited, an authorised financial services provider, a registered credit provider, an authorised over the counter derivatives provider, and a member of the JSE.

    Investec is committed to the code of banking practice as regulated by the Ombudsman for Banking Services.


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