Telecom & Energy Are Converging To Bring Climate Smart Solutions To Africa

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By Charlotte Aubin, CEO GreenWish Partners France, and Thomas Chalumeau, Chief Strategy Officer and Exco member Orange MEA, GSMA Utilities Champion (social impact programs)

“Technology makes it possible, people are making it happen!”

Two major revolutions are currently under way at global scale in the telecom and energy sectors since the start of this new Millennium: digital and new models around off-grid solar and distributed energy.

The convergence of these 2 major disruptions is about to reshape the challenge of energy access in emerging markets, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 70% of the population does not have access to the power grid and power cuts are frequent, even in large cities.

According to most recent estimates from the World Bank, in 2040, up to 55% of Africans having access to power will get it through new disruptive business models, ranging from mini-grids to solar home systems up to a whole range of other decentralized energy initiatives, on top of the necessary extension of the grid.

Both former investment bankers from the same generation, sharing the same values around the role of finance and private sector to favor real economy with positive environmental and social impact to the populations, we have been very happy to share at the Transition Monaco Forum 2018 how Orange, a major telecom operator present in 21 countries in the Middle East and Africa, and GreenWish Partners, a specialist in clean energy finance and infrastructure dedicated to Africa, have engaged a very promising cooperation around how to work together for a better and cleaner future.

“Traditional” sectors such as telecom and energy can indeed collaborate to reinvent business models and develop new approach that can support social and economic development while reducing the pressure on environment. And this is how:

Renewables and the double energy revolution in Africa

A few figures to sum up the African energy challenge: Today, 620 million out of 900 million people don’t have access to electricity in Africa. Billions of dollars are spent on fossil fuels to power polluting generators, and the needed expansion of electricity networks across Africa would cost $63 billion a year up to 2030, while only $8 billion a year is being spent.

Perhaps nowhere as much as in Africa can tech bring the urgent solutions to climate change. We see a double tech revolution in progress in Africa:

1) The first revolution is the opportunity for a whole continent to move from lack of power to an abundant, clean, and reliable energy.

First on the grid:

At GreenWish solar farm in Senegal, Senergy ii, renewable technologies, solar, wind, and of course hydro, are now the most competitive source of energy on the continent. Solar panels have decreased by 80% since 2010. The last gap to bridge is the competitiveness of storage, but the cost of battery storage has already been divided by 4 in the last 4 years.

Second, over the grid:

Renewable technologies also decentralized power solutions for industrials, the telecom sector, commercial users, as well as in rural areas. Let’s take the example of the telecom sector, which is a strategic business line for us: In Congo, GreenWish is converting 300 telecom towers for Orange from diesel to solar battery solutions: we improve reliability of power, reduce by 70% diesel consumption, by 30% total cost of power. There will be soon 300,000 towers in Africa relying on off-grid solutions, either solar hybrid or diesel. Finally, the expansion of connectivity will support energy efficiency and smart use of power.

2) The second leapfrog is the productive uses that cleantech enables:

Access to power has strong impact on value chains, in particular on the agri-industry both on cold storage and transformation. But the most outstanding leapfrog allowed by access to power is the enabling of connectivity and universal access to digital. The association of cleantech and IT allows more efficient value chains and a major acceleration to social and economic services for isolated populations. This is the underlying strategy of our GreenWish Villages: thanks to access to power and connectivity, we allow access to cold storage and improved distribution networks for our B to B partners such as Coca Cola, Danone — but also Fastrack digital services such as health, education, agriculture and egovernment (for which we work with Microsoft team), as well as ebank and ecommerce. By empowering populations, we create economic and social value in sensitive areas, often impacted by the consequences of climate change such as North of Nigeria, the Sahel strip, or Chad Lake. It creates jobs and reduces the divide between urban and rural centers which is a key priority in the fight against poverty and the prevention of migration crises. Each of our Village empowers 10 to 20,000 people. If we deploy 10,000 with our commercial and government partners, we can impact up to 200 million people.

When Orange and GreenWish engage on a common agenda for clean energy in Africa

Over the last year, Orange and GreenWish have developed a very promising cooperation in sub-Saharan Africa to help reduce Orange’s own fuel consumption of up to -70% with an annual costs savings of up to -30%. This means a cleaner, cheaper, more reliable energy through solar hybrid power generation. It also allows for operators to expand their rural coverage at lower investment and better profitability, meanwhile building on such partnerships to deploy larger scale rural electrification programs in Africa through decentralized, off-grid micro and mini-grid solutions, based on each partner’s assets: technical expertise and financing for GreenWish, a presence in 20 countries with over 130 million customers and 900,000 Orange resellers across the continent for Orange, along with a flagship mobile-based money transfer and financial services offer, Orange Money, available in 17 countries with 150,000 Orange Money points of presence,.

Besides its commitment to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals though its cleaner energy programs, the energy sector has been identified as an significant opportunity for Orange in its strategy to provide essential services for its customers through digital technology as a key partner for the continent’s digital transformation, a strategy started 10 years ago with Orange Money, which has completely changed people’s lives, bringing new digital services in health, agriculture, and education to millions of customers

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