COVID-19 response across the African continent has been complicated by its enormous energy access crisis, with over 1 billion Africans lacking reliable power. Bill Lenihan, CEO of ZOLA Electric spoke to Africa Oil & Power about the company’s ability to get power where it’s needed.
Please provide an overview of the initiatives that ZOLA has implemented to expand energy access across the continent in the context of COVID-19?
Our business delivers reliable and affordable energy to Africa. Everything we do today is to offer support to survive and thrive during this crisis. We are starting to see COVID-19 spread across Africa, the case rates are increasing and right now the best tools that the world has to fight this pandemic are being deployed across the globe; social distancing, emergency clinics, ventilators, medicine and emergency food distribution.
We really need rapid mobilization of flexible energy support to the frontlines, and that is what ZOLA Electric does; we have one million customers throughout Africa that are enabled to have a reliable source of energy. One way to support people while working from home is by providing them with our ZOLA FLEX, a plug-and-play, connected, solar and storage hybrid power system. The kit gets energy to people’s homes, it has Wi-Fi for internet connection and powers lighting so that people can work from home.
Renewable energy solutions will provide fast response to the global coronavirus pandemic and build more resilient energy systems.
The African Union Commission (AUC) and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) have agreed to work closely to advance renewable energy across the continent to bolster Africa’s response to Covid-19. The two organisations will focus on innovative solutions to drive the development of renewable energy including decentralised systems, and to increase access to energy across the continent.
The cooperation aims to bolster Africa’s response to the pandemic by, inter alia, improving the ability of rural health centres and communities to deal with the health challenge using renewable energy to power critical services such as medical equipment and water pumping for improving hygiene.
Africa is home to more than two thirds of the world’s least developed countries and 600 million people currently live without access to modern energy services. Paradoxically, Africa possesses vast renewable energy potential that could cover nearly a quarter of its energy needs through indigenous renewable energy by 2030. The deployment of renewables-based solutions is, therefore, central to the achievement of universal access and a key enabler for the attainment of the aspirations of the AU Agenda 2063 as well as achievement of the UN Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development. The two organisations will collaborate to make this possible.
The African Development Bank-managed Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA), has approved a $760,000 grant to Empower New Energy AS (EmNEW), to develop at least eight small renewable energy projects with capacity ranging from1-10 MW, towards bankability and construction.
The grant will support a broad range of project preparation and development activities, including technical feasibility studies, legal due diligence, environmental and social impact assessment, quality assurance and risk management.
Through its Empower Invest fund, EmNEW invests in small and medium-scale renewable energy projects in Africa, with a focus on solar power, hybrid, and hydro technologies.
Welcoming the approval, Terje Osmundsen, EmNEW’s CEO, said, “We are very excited to be entering into a partnership with the African Development Bank and SEFA. There is a large number of strong small or medium scale projects across Africa that remain unrealised because they can’t access competitive financing. Our approach allows us to bridge this gap and working with SEFA, will help us to accelerate this process and support more high-quality projects. Together, we can bring impactful investment to Africa, while helping the continent to meet its electrification, carbon-reduction, and sustainable development targets.”
Reliable, affordable electricity is needed to keep people connected at home and to run life-saving equipment in hospitals
A pandemic puts pressure on every part of a country’s economy and society. For developing countries that were already facing major challenges before COVID-19, this pressure will be particularly painful.
As the virus spreads, especially across Africa and parts of Asia, one of the most used preventative measures is a luxury not all countries can afford. Social distancing and stay-at-home measures being adopted in many countries are predicated on an important assumption: that populations have access to reliable, affordable electricity to stay connected and continue to communicate with public services and one another remotely.