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Schneider Electric, SolarX plan to extend West African partnership

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Monday, 27 September 2021 17:11

SolarX CEO Karim Ghammache. Photo supplied.

France’s Schneider Electric and Mali-based renewable energy provider SolarX plan to extend their partnership to Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, SolarX CEO Karim Ghammache tells The Africa Report.

“The need and demand for power is very strong” in the three countries, all of which have unreliable and expensive national grids, Ghammache says in Bamako.

According to the World Bank, only 50% of West Africa’s population has access to electricity. Users pay among the highest prices in the world, which are double the figures in East Africa. Electricity supply in the region is unreliable, with an average 44 hours of outages per month, the World Bank says.

Schneider Electric is expanding operations in sub-Saharan Africa, as urbanisation drives demand for new energy management solutions. Schneider says Senegal, Mozambique, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are among countries where it wants to strengthen its presence this month.

SolarX, which operates in Mali and Burkina Faso, supplies on- and off-grid solar systems, which often use the client’s roof space, and hybrid systems with diesel generators or batteries. It also provides financing to business clients such as hotels, cement plants, pharmaceutical companies and miners.

  • The company announced its partnership with Schneider in June. Schneider supplies technology and a pipeline of clients, while SolarX operates the solution and provides finance, Ghammache says.
  • He says entering Senegal is the immediate priority and client discussions are at a “very advanced” stage.
  • The first project in Senegal [could] be commissioned in six months if the first client signs in the next month, he says.
  • SolarX aims to enter Côte d’Ivoire in mid-2022, and Guinea at the end of next year. “The client takes you to the next country,” he says.

Economic impact

According to a new report from UCL’s Engineering for International Development Centre and solar-panels provider Bboxx, off-grid electrification has a vital role in improving sub-Saharan economic resilience.

Rural electrification increases business start-ups, with an estimated 24% of customers in East African countries using their off-grid connections to improve existing businesses or generate new streams of income, the report says. Off-grid companies have an addressable market in sub-Saharan Africa of $11.3bn, it says.

  • Progress is being held back, the report argues, because many countries lack local manufacturing capacity for renewable technologies, and so depend heavily on China.

SolarX was founded by private equity investor Omnium Invest, which has operated in Mali for 20 years. Its initial funding came from Energy Access Ventures (EAV). The company is currently carrying out grid-connected solar projects for clients including Société Malienne de Nattes en Plastique et Tube (Somanap) in Mali, and SAP Olympic and Filsah in Burkina Faso.

  • Apart from Schneider, SolarX’s main suppliers are John Cockerill and Germany’s SMA Solar Technology.
  • The company’s expansion involves a “permanent fundraising process,” says Ghammache, who is still a non-executive director at Omnium Invest.
  • SolarX is currently seeking to raise debt and equity to finance the expansion, mainly from development finance institutions, he says, declining to specify the amount.

Bottom line

SolarX and Schneider sees West Africa’s weak national grids as opening the door to solar power.

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