Johannesburg - Renewable energy is the wind beneath the wings of passionate and determined Linda Mabhena-Olagunju, whose vision is to power Africa.
“My business model is set on this continent and I want the time to come when nobody studies by candlelight,” she declares.
DLO Energy Resources is already involved as a co-developer of one solar power plant and two wind farms, both located in De Aar in the Northern Cape.
The latter have a combined capacity of 244 megawatts, making them among the largest wind farms currently being developed in Africa.
“We also have a gas-to-power project pipeline here, and in Nigeria we are currently developing a solar project pipeline,” says Mabhena-Olagunju.
Furthermore, DLO provides legal and regulatory advisory services to investors, developers and governments wanting to create energy projects.
As a lawyer who graduated from the University of Cape Town with an LLB and went on to obtain her LLM in oil and gas law (with distinction) from the University of Aberdeen in the UK, she’s well placed to offer legal advice in her sector.
While in Aberdeen, she ended up working on a renewable energy project.
It was the city’s first wind farm.
At the time, South Africa was suffering rolling power blackouts, “and I decided the time had come to bring the wind and the sun on board”.
On her return home, she practised law at an energy firm where she honed her skills as a project finance lawyer.
“I wanted to start my own company, but I lacked the technical engineering experience.”
To rectify this, she approached a little-known energy start-up business with an offer of her legal experience at a reduced cost, if they allowed her to buy equity in their projects.
“That is essentially how DLO Energy started.”
Mabhena-Olagunju’s biggest obstacle was obtaining finance for her first energy project, as she was aged only 28 at the time.
She tells the interesting story of approaching a powerful businesswoman for funding, but was turned down on the grounds that she was far too young to be leading a consortium for such a large-scale deal.
She chuckles as she describes how, a year later, her team won the project and, a year after that, she found herself on the cover of Forbes magazine.
Since then, DLO has forged ahead, creating a diversified group of companies operating within the energy and infrastructure sector in South Africa and Africa.
For a while, Mabhena-Olagunju lived in Lagos, commuting back home regularly, but she has now settled in Johannesburg.
Shortly before we met, Eskom had made it known that it was determined to pause South Africa’s renewable energy independent power producer procurement programme, leaving many different renewable projects in limbo. Mabhena-Olagunju is unwilling to comment on the situation at this stage.
The lively businesswoman (32) leads a diversified group
that includes a boutique energy and infrastructure events company.
“We own and operate industry conferences such as Africa Power Roundtable. It’s far from being just a talk shop – we take real action.
“At our last event we put together a fund that will help African countries find viable solutions to their energy requirements. We bring together bankers, investors, government regulators, and so on.’
Countries that have attended these conferences range from Kenya and Nigeria to Botswana and Mozambique.
Some of the future projects that DLO is exploring include off-grid private power stations and prepaid solar energy models.
Mabhena-Olagunju comes from an Eastern Cape family that moved to Johannesburg, where she encountered both physical and emotional racial discrimination at primary school in 1994.
Her father is a lawyer, her mother a teacher and she ended up doing matric at the National School of the Arts in Braamfontein, which she loved.
But her desire for justice for everyone saw her determine to become a lawyer.
Today she and her Nigerian husband have a daughter (2) “who needs to grow up knowing that black girls can do anything they set their mind on”, she says.