A Power Match

NRECA International recently mentored SolarX, a young renewable energy company in West Africa with five solar energy installations. This pairing was made possible with funding from Energy Access Ventures (EAV) Technical Assistance Fund. EAV invests in businesses which provide smart, reliable and clean energy solutions for commercial and industrial customers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“This type of relationship makes sense because young and high-potential energy companies can leverage our decades of knowledge, insight, and skills into their operations,” said Frank Bergh, NRECA International senior engineer who led the effort remotely. “This gives companies like SolarX a stronger foundation, reduces the early-stage investment risk for financiers, and makes it easier for them to make the investment.”

This project enabled Bergh and his team to bring SolarX the deep experience in developing and implementing renewable energy systems, particularly rooftop solar for commercial and industrial facilities. The SolarX team faced significant supply chain disruptions and travel restrictions, and was forced to adapt its business operations to overcome pandemic-related challenges.

Reaching the potential

This form of capacity building is being financed through technical assistance grants by private equity firms who seek to play a role in providing power – specifically renewable power, to developing countries.

“By working closely with NRECA International, I’m confident now that we can reach our full potential to provide access to clean and reliable energy solutions for the commercial customers in the region,” said Karim Gammache, CEO of SolarX. “I hope that this model also will unlock more smart investments that small local businesses desperately need.”

“This a powerful example of how we are supporting our portfolio companies from frontier markets,” said Vladimir Dugin, Partner at EAV. “With NRECA International’s help, SolarX benefitted from long-term insights and expertise on their very first installations, which has created a strong foundation for future growth.”

NRECA International provided engineering and management capacity-building assistance during construction of SolarX’s first five solar energy projects in Bamako, Mali. This included assessing SolarX’s technical capacity, quality assurance practices, safety procedures, business model viability, existing capabilities and future plans to strengthen their operations for long-term solar energy projects.

With global COVID-19 travel restrictions in place, NRECA International remotely gathered all of the required data. The results of this assessment combined with the impact of the pandemic, revealed the need for SolarX to develop and strengthen much of its engineering, procurement and construction services in-house, and making sure these services are in line with industry best practices.

The project was completed in March 2021, and was funded by the EAV technical assistance facility, whose donors include the CDC Group’s Grant Facility (CDC Plus), funded by UKAid from the UK Government, Fonds d’Investissement et de Soutien aux Entreprises en Afrique S.A.S (FISEA) and Fonds Francais Pour L’Environnment Mondial (FFEM).

Four reports were provided to EAV and SolarX, outlining the company’s technical capabilities as well as a plan to guide the development of SolarX’s portfolio, promising a clear path for growth.

SolarX hopes to expand into Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso within the next year. For NRECA International, it is becoming clear that investing in small companies working in private-sector renewable energy and rural electrification initiatives can lead to smart growth, making investments more valuable and sustainable.