To continue its international growth, CVE is looking to South Africa to develop new renewable energy production projects. As we prepare to launch our subsidiary, we asked Stéphane Couturier, our Director of International Development, to explain in a few words what he does and what this new adventure is all about.
Can you tell us about your job in a few words?
Stéphane Couturier: I hold the position of Director of International Development at CVE. My main mission is focused on the development of photovoltaic projects in our new region, Africa (South Africa, Senegal, and Kenya), particularly through the creation of our new subsidiary in South Africa this year. I’m also in charge of harmonizing the development processes between Africa and our other entities in Chile and the United States.
What makes it so exciting?
Stéphane: I was lucky to come aboard CVE’s international development at an important time in its history. Most of my team members have been working on these solar projects in Africa since 2014. Joining CVE at this key stage, as we’re creating our new subsidiary in South Africa, meant taking on a sizable challenge aimed at formalizing CVE’s efforts in this opportunity-rich region and maintaining a lasting presence.
Project development in Africa is exciting because it poses a real challenge: Today, 70% of the people living on the continent have no access to electricity or a reliable grid. Businesses often suffer from middling grid quality. Solar energy is being studied as the leading option to overcome this complex, persistent shortfall, because of the level of sunlight most areas receive. Most Sub-Saharan African countries also have pro-renewable policies. But the lack of structure seen in some of these countries’ energy markets means longer development periods, which makes our job tougher. That’s why CVE decided in 2014 to prospect only certain African countries, based on their political and economic stability, energy prices, and regulatory environment, to develop our decentralized solar power production for businesses and governments.
What do you think CVE will be doing in Africa five years from now?
Stéphane: Today, CVE is present in two African countries: South Africa, where we have one site operational and two more in construction, and Senegal, where we won the Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Cities call for projects launched by the national treasury for our solar micro-grid solution. We also have major projects in the development phase in Kenya, which should come together in 2021 and begin construction in 2022.
In five years, our South African subsidiary and the two commercial entities (in Senegal and Kenya) will be regional development hubs whose reach extends into nearby areas.
Our goal by 2025 is to have 150MW of solar power plants in operation. Out of that fleet, 100MW will be developed solely in South Africa, through our PPA plan RespeeR intended for industrial firms. Within five years, our ambition is to make CVE a noted PPA provider in South Africa.
As the development of our projects in Africa picks up speed, our team also plans to expand: By 2025, our staff working to develop projects on the continent is expected to grow four- or five-fold.
Finally, in the next five years, I would like for us to develop CSR and corporate-citizen initiatives around our projects to benefit the local populations, as our American teams are already doing with our Green Initiative program.
What do you feel is the biggest challenge to renewable energy development in South Africa?
Stéphane: Currently, 77% of the energy produced in South Africa comes from coal, so the energy transition challenge is particularly strong there. There is also the fact that the local power producer, ESKOM, is having great difficulty with its ability to provide green, sufficiently stable, competitive grid power so that industrial firms could have full confidence in their energy supplier. Outages are common in South Africa, which badly hurts industry as they need to shut down their processes until the power comes back on.
Power-generating capacity issues are therefore a very big deal, which is one of the largest challenges for CVE in South Africa: Encouraging the energy transition by providing competitive, decentralized, green power so that industry can have confidence. With our RespeeR plan, I feel strongly that we’ll be able to meet that need.
We’re also working on hybrid solutions with storage, to supply industrial firms with the most stable possible energy, drawing on our experience with this technology: Our teams in the United States are particularly familiar with this sort of situation. The Senegal project that won us the Innovative Solutions for Sustainable Cities call for applications also involves the use of innovative storage technology.
How has business in Africa been affected by the COVID-19 epidemic?
Stéphane: Obviously, the ban on intercontinental flights put a stop to travel and assignments for our teams in Africa. On the other hand, we’ve been able to maintain business ties to our clients and prospects in Senegal and South Africa during this lockdown thanks to digital technology.
The construction of our plants in South Africa has obviously been slowed down as the country is self-isolating.
The situation in Senegal is quite different: Although the borders are closed, no lockdowns have yet been ordered, so we can continue developing our projects with our local partner Senemeca. This means we’ll be able to start construction on the solar smart grid that won us a prize last year, in the area of Diamniadio.
In Kenya, we have so far been able to maintain our discussions with our partners for project development, despite the current health crisis.
In summary, half the planet being on lockdown has pushed back our development schedule by a few months.