US companies are determined to outwit China in renewable energy profits in Africa

Job growth is a prime topic in the U.S. presidential race, which Donald Trump eventually won.

One area the Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton and incumbent President of the United States disagreed was on clean energy investment.

While the Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was more unequivocal in her support, according to her, the U.S. can be the world’s “clean energy superpower.” Her plan, spelled out in detail online, would create millions of jobs and spur billions of dollars in public and private investment, while making infrastructure more resilient and lowering emissions.

Donal Trump was not overtly focused on the benefits of clean energy, nevertheless he recognizes the market being an astute business man.

And that market is sub-Saharan Africa, a region where two out of three has no access to power.

According to the world Bank, 660 million people lack reliable electricity, this represents the world largest emerging power market.

Observers believe the US has been a little envious of the control of infrastructural investment in Africa by Chinese companies, and see energy as a gateway to better cement US place in the heart of Africans, especially the governments.

While China no doubt holds the largest investment in Africa, energy investments are predominantly in huge hydroelectric projects to serve Africa’s central grid.

Solar companies in the US are now looking to play a very big role in powering the continent using clean energy.

5 days ago the U.S. Trade and Development Agency awarded a grant to the Nigerian company, Community Social Enterprises Limited (CESEL), for a feasibility study supporting the roll-out of 25 solar photovoltaic microgrids across Nigeria. Together, the microgrids will produce more than 5 megawatts.

The project will help Nigeria capitalize on its tremendous solar energy potential by scaling up the deployment of off-grid generation and minigrid systems, ultimately increasing access to electricity. The project has selected U.S. firm, Renewvia Energy Corporation (Atlanta, GA), to conduct the feasibility study.

The project will present opportunities for U.S. businesses to make sales in solar PV modules, batteries, electrical equipment, control systems and meters across Nigeria.

Aside Nigeria, US firms are now strategically entering other big African markets.

No doubts, the United States government investment of millions of dollars in solar technology in Africa will help bring power to millions of Africans, the declining price of solar panels in the US, no thanks to “net metering” (which allows homeowners and utilities to sell surplus energy back to the grid) combined in a perfect storm to turn the U.S. solar industry into a small juggernaut makes Africa a very sweet spot for investment for US companies.

A US investor in Africa, Trey Jarrard whose company has ben making its presence felt in Nigeria and Kenya recently said, “We need to get to Africa before others sees it,”

Between the cost of producing electricity and prevailing market prices, he reasoned, small power plants could be big profit centers.

Jarrard founded Renewvia Energy in 2008. The company cut its teeth building turnkey projects in Georgia, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, MA, Arizona and Virginia, but now heavily investing in Africa energy.

On Lake Victoria in faraway Kenya, he found a community of 5,000 people, and a government-built fish processing facility that lacked power. With a power purchase agreement for 15-kilowatts, he built his first African solar facility, a small operation that enabled fisherman to power refrigerators to preserve their catch.

That led to a 50-kilowatt plant for a fish hatchery, grants from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency’s Power Africa program, and hundreds of megawatts worth of proposed projects from Kenya to Nigeria.

“We’re getting tariffs, licenses, developing permits with local government.”

Jarrard sees a two-year window for Renewvia to develop a platform that justifies investment by larger companies.

General Electric has sold $250MM worth of equipment to African hydro-power projects in recent years.

Pierre Omidyar, billionaire founder of Ebay, funds D.Light, a San Francisco-based manufacturer whose solar lanterns and 8-watt rooftop solar kits are in over one million East African homes.

Omidyar and fellow venture capitalists invested $22,500,000 in a recent round of debt and equity funding for d.light.

Such people are not philanthropists, reminds Teo Ozun, the company’s CEO. “They want to make ten times their investment.”

Ozun imagines a future African energy landscape dominated by ½ a dozen or more companies. Beyond energy provision, opportunities in energy storage, software, remote management — and service industries that can’t yet be imagined — will create new tycoons as power unspools itself across the continent.