12 - 14 May 2020
Cape Town, South Africa

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02 May 2019

ENERGY CORRESPONDENT INTERVIEW: “African governments, private businesses and investment institutions are realizing there are more ways to achieve universal access to clean and affordable electricity”

Exclusive interview with Miriam Mannak, freelance energy correspondent, including for AfrElec Power Monitor and Renewable Energy Monitor. She is also an official event ambassador for African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa, taking place in Cape Town from 14-16 May.  
MiriamLet’s start with some highlights of your career in the energy industry so far?
I started writing about energy in 2008, the start of South Africa’s energy crisis. My focus was the role of renewables back then (over and above the many Eskom-related issues) in boosting the country’s (and individual consumers and businesses) energy security.
 

The diversity of the stories I have produced since, particularly as an energy correspondent for AfrElec Power Monitor and Renewable Energy Monitor, two of about a dozen energy journals and investment publications published by Newsbase in the UK, has been a highlight. 

Over the past decade and a bit, I have covered anything from the Lake Turkana Wind Farm and gas exploration in South Africa to small-scale mini-grid initiatives in some of South Africa’s remotest areas. Ten years ago, I visited a small village on the border of Swaziland. The settlement is completely cut off from the rest of the world, and not just from an energy point of view.  I was there to follow the roll-out of an off-grid solar project by a large European electronics company. The impact of this small community, which in many represents the majority of the African population, was astounding and a true eye-opener. 

What is the most exciting project you are working on at the moment and how will/could this change the energy landscape?
My work for AfrElec Power Monitor and Renewable Energy Monitor revolves around Africa-based energy stories, from policy and development to thought leadership and analysis. The diversity of African energy stories is what excites me the most. Some revolve around policy and legislation, others around innovative, out-of-the-box solutions and new developments. A lot is happening in Africa in that regard. Energy in Africa is a very exciting space.  

What surprises you about this industry?
What is great to see is that African governments, and private businesses and investment institutions, are realizing there are more ways to achieve universal access to clean and affordable electricity. The debate is no longer about expanding centralized national systems. I absolutely love following and writing about all the new energy solutions that are being developed and implemented across the continent, from off-grid and mini-grid solutions to other cleantech innovations – particularly those that are developed in Africa by African innovators. 

What is your message to all prospective visitors and participants at African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa this year?
Continue to think out of the box to achieve universal access to clean and affordable electricity in Africa. Don’t just focus on prestigious, multi-billion-dollar power projects like Grand Inga 3 but look at smaller decentralized systems. They are quicker to build, cost less, have a more direct impact, and they deliver the power where it is needed the most. 

Financial returns are important, but it is not the only thing that matters. Taking into account the notion of ESG investing, social and environmental returns should also be considered. To the government representatives of energy-constrained countries: open your energy sector to private players who can deliver what you need to develop your economy, namely affordable and clean electricity. This is needed to grow your economies, foster human development, close the inequality gap, become more competitive investment destinations, produce enough food, provide clean water, and mitigate the effects of climate change. 

What are you most looking forward to at the event?
Speaking with and meeting with analysts and energy experts to hear about the latest developments and trends, as well as innovators who can change the African energy landscape for one and for all.  I am also looking forward to expanding my own network of potential clients, as I am also serving private companies with content and research services. 

We have quite a few very successful and strong women as part of the event, do you have an opinion about women in the power industry and the contribution that they are making in your experience?          
I have written often about the business case of diversity, particularly from a gender point of view. Besides allowing for greater levels of gender parity is the right thing to do, it is a fact that diverse teams, from a gender, racial, cultural, and age perspective, make for strong and agile teams. Gender diversity is a driver of any company (or government's) ability to serve its audience, identify new markets, and deal with times of economic upheaval better. Having a diverse base of skills and experiences drawn from a range of perspectives, backgrounds, and leadership styles is key to any business’s competitiveness. 

A 2015 McKinsey study among 350 public corporates in North America, Latin America, and the United Kingdom shows that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to produce better returns than those in the lower quartile and that every 10% improvement in gender diversity translates into 2-4% annual profit increases. Gender diversity is a no-brainer, particularly considering the large numbers of women graduating from university. What applies to companies, applies to entire sectors. Africa's energy sector will not be able to develop, progress, and remain competitive and relevant if it refuses to transform and move on from being predominantly male-based structure to a diverse status quo. This is 2019, after all. 

Anything you would like to add?
Thank you for inviting me to be one of your ambassadors!

 

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