ISI was pleased to participate in this year’s African Utility Week which has become a key event in the annual calendar for the African power sector. This year was no exception, with the Cape Town conference being co-located with PowerGen Africa for the first time, creating a much larger event than in previous years. Over 350 companies exhibited their technologies and solutions and more than 10,500 people attended – nearly double the number at last year’s event.
And this year saw another first, in that the U.S. Department of Commerce, organized a U.S. pavilion which attracted a much greater number of U.S. firms to exhibit and participate than had been the case at past events. And this U.S. presence was further bolstered by an impressive presence from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and PowerAfrica, who also hosted an event on the sidelines of the conference.
The 3 day event kicked off with a keynote address from the South African Minister of Energy, Jeff Radebe, who indicated that while South Africa is welcoming the expansion of renewable energy sources, it was far from ready to get rid of coal as its primary source for power production, and most likely without the introduction of clean coal technology due to the financial crisis that the state utility, Eskom, finds itself in.
With 33 CEOs from utilities across Africa in attendance, it was a great opportunity to get a sense of the key themes on everyone’s mind in the power sector. Amongst those, the primary topic of conversation was around financing of independent power projects with many commenting on the need for the model to change to address the unique challenges in many African markets.
Transmission and distribution continued to be a key theme at the top of everyone’s agenda as more countries are starting to find that addressing the shortfall in generation is only part of the equation needed to increase access to electricity across Africa. The main topic of conversation was around solving the need for greater integration of power resources across countries in order to address long-term deficits in some countries as well as temporary peaks in additional demand such as those created by drought in highly hydro-electric dependent countries.
Continuing on this theme, distributed power and mini-grids were also front and center as ways to address issues with failing transmission or distribution systems, such as in Nigeria, as well as a more cost efficient way to bring power to rural communities where full grid build out was not financially viable at present.
Again, the message was clear that there are numerous opportunities for both product and service companies across the entire African power sector, from fossil fuels to renewables, independent power producers to utilities and both off-grid and distributed power. As is always the case in emerging markets, the key for most companies is to know which markets to focus on and how to build the necessary relationships and network to monitor, pursue and win opportunities in those markets.
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