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Stealing electricity like robbing a bank – energy expert

May 14 2019 21:07
Carin Smith

There is no difference between a customer stealing electricity and one stealing money from a bank, Andrew Herscowitz, coordinator of Power Africa in the USA, said at Africa Utility Week in Cape Town on Monday.

The same goes for people accepting bribes or turning a blind eye to people not paying for electricity when they should be, he said. That is why Power Africa wants to improve the internal audits of electricity projects in Africa.

Power Africa was launched by former US president Barack Obama six years ago and the initiative has been continued by the Trump administration, according to Herscowitz.

It was Obama’s goal to enable 60 million new electricity connections by 2030 in sub-Sahara Africa (SSA). So far it has done about 20 million first time connections. It is estimated that two out of three people in SSA lack access to electricity.

“We have many partners in the Power Africa project, including 12 US government agencies bringing their tools together,” said Herscowitz.

“We have learnt a lot from rolling up our sleeves and trying to get new power projects going. It brings together the financing tools from overseas financiers and the World Bank as well as international and local technology skills.”

He said in order to reach its goal, the initiative will require involvement by the private sector as well as governments.

“We have to be realistic. It has not been all good news for us. Many potential investors say they want to make sure the governments are able to pay for the power generated,” said Herscowitz.

“They did not want to put the governments in the same position they end up in from many Chinese projects which saddles them with sovereign debt.”

According to Herscowitz, training is a very important aspect for Power Africa going forward, especially on efficient collections of revenue and effective internal audits.

“We had some success in certain countries like Ethiopia although it seems like a mere drop in the bucket. Our hope is still to help utilities in SSA to try and solve energy issues,” said Herscowitz.

“It must include clean energy and energy efficiency.”

According to George Njenga, regional commercial executive for GE Steam Power, 60% of the people in Africa do not have access to electricity irrespective of how its produced.

"Reliable and affordable power requires a balanced energy mix that leverages both locally available fuel resources and innovative technologies to achieve the least cost of energy. The way in which power is produced is shifting requiring new operating and financial models," Njenga told Fin24.

"In this regard, continued partnerships with technology leaders are essential to address the power challenges-delivering reliable, flexible power to meet today's demands. Diversifying our energy mix is even more critical as South Africa strives to stabilise the availability of plants whilst also achieving a balanced approach to curb emissions."

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