Today we had a chance to chat with Suza Adams as one of the key organizers behind this year’s Viridis Africa, a business and investment matchmaking event that will take place on the 17th and 18th of October. The event will be held at the Killarney Country Club in Lower Houghton, Johannesburg. She shares her views on the emergence of an African driven green energy sector.
Can you tell us where Green Tech is in Africa today?
Green Tech or Clean Tech in the African context is much about the provision of sustainable resources primary to human daily existence, namely energy and water. Coupled with this is also the need to ensure sustainability of other used resources for daily endeavours, and whilst minimising the impact on the environment.
The global rush for deployment of technologies and or solutions takes on a particular angle in as far as Africa is concerned. It has to answer not only for issues relating to global climate change, diminishing or over exploited resources, lack of sustainable development, but also with the pervasiveness of dire need to address socio -economic objectives ever so present in this continent.
Clean Technologies include technologies driving renewable energy, water (drinking/potable), wastewater/sewage treatment, and waste recycling. The production and processing of biofuels which are just one of the sectors in which much of the effort, being research and development and investment, generate much interest and action.
Not unlike the opportunities now offered to Africa by adopting and deploying and in effect leap frogging legacy technologies in the telecommunication market, new avenues for introducing cost effective solutions which bear significant advantage and brings about significant socio-economic benefits, such as the provision of affordable education, health care services, economic impetus to underserved regions, so is the promise of clean technology, which aside of its obvious benefits, can also be leveraged to offer marginalised communities the opportunity to super impose their socio economic priorities for the benefit of all.
For example communities can, and they do, engage in the agricultural production of biofuels, and even processing. Yet another example would be the production of activated carbon utilising organic waste.
High tech projects in renewable energy such as solar (CSP, photovoltaic farms) are having very substantial economic impact on peripheral communities. Not the least important is the provision of potable/drinking water, where novel and cost effective solutions can now provide accessibility to such sought after resource, by hybridizing self-contained system/s whereby the renewable energy component is driving a desalination plant in remote and inhospitable areas
For Africa Clean tech is not so much about, reduction of green house gases, individual carbon footprint or a transient fashion, but rather an enabling set of tools/technologies to bring about change to the way of life of many economically marginalised communities.
What are the most promising developments you have seen over the last year?
Last year has seen numerous and significant development in both technologies and finance. In the context of the former, more adaptive solutions have been introduced and or proposed where solutions in renewable energy are both more scalable and simplified for operation and maintenance. For example, more efficient wind turbines can now work and can be economically viable in regions with low wind capacity. Yet, gas cycle turbines also enjoy more efficient design and hence lower cost. Technologies that recover heat waste from processing plant are now also being introduced in a cost-effective manner. Not dissimilar to this, the same trend is witnessed in other fields, like waste recycling, sewerage treatment etc for which there are technologies proposing to generate electricity from the very process of effluent treatment.
In finance there has been a shift from general investment fund to more dedicated clean tech funds whose mandate specific to the development of initiatives in the sector and the African geography. Whilst some of the funds are small others are quite substantial ranging from a US$100 million with one 1 Billion US dedicated for biofuel projects. Depending on how project initiatives are defined, it may also enjoy funding support from the more traditional financing houses, such as the Industrial Development Bank and African Development Bank.
What are some of the projects, entrepreneurs, start-ups that exemplify what is possible?
There is a wide range of projects that will be proposed at Viridis Africa, including new and efficient processes to produce ethanol through production of primary agricultural growth to waste recycling operations.
What do you see as the major challenges for the sector moving forward?
Attention to clean technology is very much part of a global focus about remedial action that are required in order to mitigate climate change. To what extend this attention will be pervasive enough and long term remains to be seen. However, it must be noted that investment in defined sectors are subject to the vagaries of market perception and overall economic conditions. In the past, sectors such as biotechnology, internet has suffered material damage, i.e. investment disinterest, due to the shifting sands of investment fashion, with direct and detrimental impact on project valuation and subsequent investments. To what extend should this be the case with clean tech, the resultant effect would be on projects in Africa, remains to be seen. It is not expected that such adverse impact would be witnessed by projects in renewable energy, simply because those are not considered pure technology play, but rather infrastructural by nature.
You have a nice event coming up, what makes this conference so unique?
The market has witnessed numerous conferences and events in renewable energy further stratified in wind, solar, hydro, biomass, biofuel etc. The same has been experienced in the context of other sectors. Of a material differentiating factor between Viridis Africa and the above is that the latter is designed to seek investments for specific projects and initiatives encompassing the spectra of technology development to operational industrial assets in power generation, waste recycling and production of biofuels.
What should we look forward to at the event and in the coming year?
The matrix of success for Viridis Africa would be measured against how much investment has been committed to projected. Between the annual events the organisers are intending to hold more specific master classes for investors and entrepreneurs so as to ensure continuity as well as build-up to the subsequent event.
How have you linked up with the VC4A community and what do you see as the role this community can play?
Viridis Africa invites entrepreneurs and corporates to present a business case for investment in environmentally friendly technologies and enviro businesses at the upcoming business and investment matchmaking conference. Business case presentations are invited in from all over Africa. Members of VC4Africa, provided that they have an interest in such projects, may benefit from interacting with principals present at this event.