Meet Africa’s Solar Warriors

Blog author Gavin Serkin is the Editorial Director for OnFrontiers and the Founder and Managing Editor of the Frontier Funds Consultancy.

Almost one year ago, the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower turned a luminous green.

It was Earth Day, an annual celebration for environmentalists everywhere. This particular April 22nd was special; it marked the signing of the Paris Agreement by 175 nations, each committed to tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

By contrast, Earth Day celebrants next week have little reason to cheer.

America’s President has wasted no time in tearing apart carbon emission controls put in place under Barack Obama, based on Donald Trump’s assertion that they threaten the health of the US economy.

Trump’s campaign dismissed evidence of mankind’s impact on climate change as a “hoax” and Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce plant emissions as a “war on coal,” vowing to “cancel” the Paris climate accord and dismantle the Environment Protection Agency.

Dark days for greens

Scientists are having to reconcile the world’s most powerful man denying climate change, even after the hottest year on record in 2016 and amid projections for a further 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by 2050 irreversibly raising sea levels and triggering extreme droughts, food shortages, and more powerful floods and storms.

It’s not just scientists who are grappling with the new attitude from Washington. An entire financial industry has developed in recent years to support renewable energy, particularly in poorer countries where governments lack the resources to subsidize the switch to wind or solar. Private financial backing had propelled momentum, especially in Africa – helped by the Power Africa initiative, another Obama-led project now with an uncertain future.

Irrespective of what happens in the US, hopes on the continent for renewable energy have been fading fast. In a blow to the entire industry, South Africa’s electricity behemoth, Eskom, is refusing to sign any independent producers onto its grid, citing high costs and the unreliability of solar and wind.

In a recent media briefing at the Koeberg nuclear power station outside Cape Town, Eskom’s interim CEO Matshela Koko said the company would look to nuclear and coal-fired power to meet its needs.

Nuclear junk

The country’s government is behind its national utility all the way. President Jacob Zuma’s recent Cabinet reshuffle toppled an energy minister supportive of renewable energy. Her successor, Nkhensani Kubayi, will help grease the wheels toward a massive nuclear energy program that – according to credit rating companies – South Africa can ill afford.

Fitch became the second credit ratings company in a week to cut South Africa’s ranking from investment grade to “junk” status, in part because Zuma’s ministerial reshuffle makes the country’s unaffordable nuclear build program more likely.

So, where does the dream of renewable energy powering, and empowering, the world’s excluded billions go from here?

At OnFrontiers, we’re marking Earth Day 2017 early by dedicating our next #ExpertChat online discussion to figuring out that question.

Helping us are two of the leading forces behind renewable energy projects in the developing world:

  • Christian Wray is the co-Founder and Chief Executive of JCM Power, a Canadian firm that has developed over 70 renewable energy projects. He’s currently working on building the first industrial-scale solar plants for Africa, along with developments in Latin America; plus
  • Jake Cusack, the co-Founder and Managing Partner of Crossboundary, which recently created the first dedicated investment fund for commercial and industrial-scale solar in Africa.



Who? Christian Wray, the co-Founder and Chief Executive of JCM Power

Jake Cusack, the co-Founder and Managing Partner of Crossboundary

What? Half-hour live discussion
Why? Find out how global politics is shaping renewable energy projects in Africa, Latin America & beyond
When? Tuesday, April 18th

11:30am-noon in NYC

4:30pm-5 in London

Where? Your computer
How? Register here

 Coming next on OnFrontiers #ExpertChat live discussions:

May 2 at 11:30am EST and 4:30pm BST

“Wall Street’s new global thinker,” as Barron’s front-page described him: Ruchir Sharma, Head of Emerging Markets & Chief Global Strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management


Featured image taken by Yann Caradec.