'A renewable light onto the nations'

Israel paves way to boost energy ties to Africa

Israel to join Power Africa program, which aims to connect 60 million African households to electricity grid by 2030

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

The solar field in Rwanda, pictured here on February 17, 2017, has 28,360 panels which provide 7.8 megawatts of electricity at peak production. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
The solar field in Rwanda, pictured here on February 17, 2017, has 28,360 panels which provide 7.8 megawatts of electricity at peak production. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Israel and the US are scheduled to sign a memorandum of understanding next week that will see Israel join the Power Africa initiative, an international program led by the US that aims to connect 60 million households in Africa to the electricity grid by 2030.

Being part of the program will enable Israeli energy firms, including startups, to make use of the tools provided by Power Africa to promote electricity generation projects on the continent, and could lead “to billions of dollars of deal-flow for Israeli firms,” according to Israeli solar energy pioneer Yosef Abramowitz, whose firm, Energiya Global Capital is one of the founding partners of Power Africa. Energiya is already working with the US and Israeli government to deploy $2 billion in solar and wind installations in 10 countries in Africa over the next five years.

Following the agreement, Israeli companies will be able to take part in the Power Africa initiative, and will receive a diverse toolbox to promote electricity generation, including increased access to local government bodies, financial grants, contacts with financing entities, professional and legal advice and feasibility surveys.

“Israel is becoming a partner in one of the biggest aid programs available today, and this initiative is a result of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policy to leverage Israeli ingenuity to strengthen diplomatic ties,”said Eli Groner, the director general at Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office, who will sign the agreement on December 4 in Jerusalem together with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Joining Power Africa “is the manifestation of our unparalleled relationship with the US, assisting in the deepening of our ties with African nations.”

Director General of Israeli PM Netanyahu’s office Eli Groner (Government Press Office)

Prime Minister Netanyahu in July 2016 became the first Israeli premier in decades to travel to the continent, when he visited four East African nations: Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia in a bid to forge closer ties with the Africa. On Tuesday Netanyahu left for Kenya, for an official visit that will include meetings with 11 African leaders.

The purpose of the one-day trip to Nairobi, Netanyahu said before boarding the plane, “is to deepen [Israel’s] ties with Africa, including by establishing connections with nations with which we do not have diplomatic relations.”

Some 600 million people, or 70 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa are without electricity. Power Africa, one of the biggest private-public development programs ever launched in the world, started its activities in 2013 with the aim of addressing poverty in Africa by adding more than 30,000 megawatts (MW) of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity and 60 million new home and business connections.

The initiative fosters government-to-government collaborations, encourages private sector engagement and provides experts with energy and finance sector expertise to help firms set up innovative and clean energy projects in Africa. Making use of its global partners and those on the ground, the organization addresses bureaucratic impediments that could stall projects, provides companies with on-the-ground support to implement solutions, and helps find financing to lower the risk of investments  — so that public and private investors will fund the projects that drive electricity reforms and work with African governments to push ahead with policy reforms to promote the power sector.

File: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara meet with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenyatta’s wife at the president’s house in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 5, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“Power Africa is a win win win” for all sides, said a person familiar to the matter who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity. It is a win for US-Israeli relations, a win for Africa, which will have Israel join its efforts to combat poverty through improved energy access, and a win for Israel because it will allow Israeli firms to access the toolbox of contacts and financing offered to firms by Power Africa.

Israel will also be injecting some “millions of dollars” into the Power Africa initiative, the person said, tapping into existing budgets of the Ministry of Economy and Industry and the Israel Innovation Authority.

Even if Israeli companies are already working in Africa, the new connection to Power Africa will enable them “faster and easier” access to these markets, he explained. The competitive advantage of Israel, he said, is in non-orthodox technologies like off-the-grid power systems, micro power plants and energy biofuels.

Partners in Power Africa include the United States government, the World Bank Group, the African Development Bank, the European Union, the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All initiative, the International Renewable Energy Agency, the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa, the Government of Japan, the Government of Sweden, the Government of Norway, the Government of Canada, the UK Department for International Development, the Government of France and over 100 private companies. The program is led by USAID.

Aerial view of Gigawatt Global’s Rwanda solar project (Courtesy)

Immediately after the agreement with Power Africa is signed, a business seminar will be held to present the opportunities and tools that will be provided to the Israeli companies, as well as success stories and recommendations from the partners in the initiative.

The conference will be attended by representatives of the US and African embassies in Israel, representatives of the Israeli government, representatives of the Power Africa Initiative and leading Israeli energy companies.

Abramowitz,who set up Energiya Global Capital in 2010 with the aim of establishing renewable energy plants around the world, to supply a target of 50 million people with renewable energy by 2025, said that Israeli companies, said that through its technologies Israel will be able to become a “renewable light unto nations.”

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