GE bets on digital solutions for growth in African renewables

By David Whitehouse

Posted on Tuesday, 20 October 2020 16:13
REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

GE is seeking local partners in renewable energy and healthcare as it seeks to use digitalisation to deliver customised solutions in Africa, Nyimpini Mabunda, CEO of GE Southern Africa, tells The Africa Report.

“You can’t deliver industrial solutions alone,” says Mabunda. GE is looking for partners all the time, he adds. “We need solutions made by Africans for Africans.”

GE has had some success in renewable energy partnerships in Africa. In June, it completed work at the 100MW Kipeto wind project in southwest Kenya. The project was carried out in partnership with British private equity fund Actis and Craftskills Wind Energy International in Nairobi. Kipeto estimates the wind farm will supply 40,000 Kenyan households.

READ MORE Kenya’s Lake Turkana points the way forward for African wind power

Mabunda, based in Johannesburg, is an external appointment who took up his role on 1 May. His background is in consumer goods and telecommunications, with previous executive roles at Diageo and Vodacom. He’s counting on that to make GE’s culture more technology-focused and customer driven.

  • Many Western solutions are too expensive for Africans to be able to afford, he says. “We need to customise those solutions for Africa. What can be supplied locally, will be [done so].”
  • Renewable power is Mabunda’s top priority. He sees grid optimisation through digital monitoring as having unexplored potential. “A country can’t work unless it has available and affordable power. That is at the heart of doing business.”
  • Health-service provision can also benefit from the use of remote monitoring technology, he argues. GE’s tools allow all parts of a hospital to be visualised, even if competing technology is in use in the hospital. This can be used to anticipate possible overcrowding and redirect patients and doctors. “We see that as the future of healthcare.”
  • “Just about every country on the continent has challenges in delivering healthcare” but “nice equipment from GE won’t work if doctors and nurses aren’t trained”, he says. Digital tools, he argues, can help meet training needs.

Government Transparency

Governments and companies across Africa don’t have much money and need to squeeze every ounce of performance out of existing equipment, he says.

READ MORE It’s time for Africa’s maternal mortality battle to go digital

Remote monitoring technology can be used to anticipate and prevent breakdowns in turbines or boilers. “There’s always a leading indicator that it’s going to break.”

  • In 2019, Dangote Cement started using GE’s asset performance digital solution to reduce unplanned downtime at two cement plants in Nigeria.
  • GE software is also used to improve performance at gas plants run by Azito Energie in Côte d’Ivoire.

GE can grow its market share in southern Africa through partnerships with governments, says Mabunda. But co-operation between governments and the private sector needs to be improved if the potentials of digital technology are to be fully realised.

  • Currently, there is a lack of transparency on government contracts and partnerships, he argues. There is a need to “eliminate corruption.”
  • Public-private relationships are “relatively too cautious at the moment. We are not working together as well as we should be. We are on the same side.”
  • These problems are “visible now in South Africa”, says Mabunda, who also has concerns about transparency in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Bottom line

Accelerating digital technology means that African governments now have more to gain from transparent collaboration with the private sector.

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