Africa’s renewable investment space is a minefield for foreign capital owners
RiA CEO Tony Tiyou told NZI that complex, fast-changing rules and competition from dirty energy sources make life difficult for renewables
Opportunities within the renewable investment space is a hot topic at the moment, and not just in the UK or Europe.
In Africa, many investors are looking at this rapidly evolving ecosystem, with solar and wind as the most popular money pullers. However, quite a few decide against it, for a variety of reasons, delegates at a major conference heard today.
As industry leaders gather this week in Cape Town for Africa's largest-ever net zero industry event - 1.5 Degrees: Africa Net Zero - this publication sits down with Tony Tiyou, the founder and CEO of Renewables in Africa (RiA), a consultancy that is working to get the continent hooked on clean energy.
However, many global investors have no appetite for an adventure in Africa as Tiyou stresses that an incredibly difficult-to-navigate and uncertain investment climate - primarily because of fast-changing government regulations and complex rules - is holding back many non-African asset owners from pumping their money into African assets.
Some say that the net zero debate will ultimately evolve around Africa in 15-20 years from now. Do you support that statement?
Well, it is important to figure out whether in this question we are talking about pure debate only or if we are implying actions as well? Africa is not immune to climate change and like the rest of the world, the debate has already started. What is true to say though, is that this debate is slightly different in Africa. While energy transition is clearly a concern, energy access is probably the priority in many people’s minds and especially for the various African governments.
So a different debate means a different approach?
With Africa contribution to global emissions being relatively low, yes it is fair to say that Africa will not be taking the same kind of actions advanced economies need to take immediately. That said, the debate is nevertheless making progress in Africa as some voices, like me, are pushing for the continent to take a cleaner approach to close the energy gap. To have an easier job in 15-20 years, we need to start building the right foundations now.
So what would you say is the biggest obstacle for investors looking to enter the renewables space?
One of the biggest obstacles for investors looking to enter the renewables space is the complexity and uncertainty of government policies and regulations. Renewable energy projects often require significant upfront investment, and their financial viability can be highly dependent on subsidies, tax credits, and other forms of government support. However, government policies can be subject to change, and investors may find it challenging to navigate the complex regulatory landscape.
Another obstacle for investors in the renewables space is the competition with traditional energy sources such as coal, oil, and gas. Although RE has become increasingly cost-competitive in recent years, fossil fuels remain deeply entrenched in many parts of the world, including in Africa.
Despite renewed climate commitments, governments have continued to heavily subsidise the production and consumption of fossil fuels. In 2020, they spent $5.9 trillion, 7% of GDP, on fossil fuel subsidies versus USD 1.9 trillion for RE.
More recently, with the energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, fossil fuels subsidies have been the go-to choice to mitigate the effects of rising energy prices, highlighting a worrying gap between renewable energy ambition and action.
Having said that, do you notice that, in Africa, there a lot of pressure from shareholders on corporates to become greener and more sustainable?
Yes, I have started to notice this trend and I’m not surprised by it at all. Many big companies in Africa are either in the supply chain of large international companies or are a subsidiary of these big groups. As a consequence, they ae simply facing directly or indirectly the same pressure than these multinationals are facing from European or American lawmakers. This is the power of Globalised economies. These African companies will also in their turn pass it on to their own supply chain and this is how you get the ripple effect.
Also, just like the rest of the World, African consumers are also becoming more aware of the climate change threat and are actually bearing the brunt of the consequences and as such, they want companies to take actions.
In the UK and US, many shareholders, such as pension funds and institutional investors, increasingly demand more detailed ESG data, so they can understand and monitor sustainability efforts better. Do you recognise that trend in Africa?
The trend has not yet reached to Africa for the simple reason that ESG investments are still negligible. According to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance (GSIA) 2020 report, sustainable investment assets worldwide reached $35.3 trillion in 2019 while in contrast sustainable investment assets (ESG included) in Africa were estimated at $30.5 billion, which represents less than 0.1% of the global sustainable investment market.
One the main reason for this is that data collection and reporting have been particularly challenging so far in the continent. So, a great business opportunity for whoever is working on a solution for it.
Finally, let's briefly zoom in on impact investing. How much attention would you say Africa's investment community pay to this?
Well, a lot of attention I would say, and for the right reasons. Looking at a report by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) published in 2020, there are over 250 impact investing organizations operating in Africa, and the total capital committed to impact investments in Africa reached $4.5 billion in 2019.
Impact investors in Africa are primarily focused on sectors such as financial services, energy, and agriculture, which are considered to have a significant potential for positive impact on social and environmental outcomes. It is also good to remember that the majority of impacts investors in Africa are international organizations, although there is a growing number of domestic one too.
So overall, yes, while impact investing is still a relatively small part of the investment landscape in Africa, it is gaining increasing attention and momentum from both domestic and international investors. The potential for positive social and environmental impact, combined with attractive financial returns, makes impact investing an attractive proposition for investors looking to invest in Africa.
Anything else you would like to say or share with our readers?
I would strongly urge the global investment community to take interest into Africa, especially the private sector. We clearly have currently a big deficit in terms of private financing. In the rest of the World, for renewable energy, private financing represents more than 80% of investments but in Africa, it is the complete opposite. The market is still dominated by DFIs (KfW, BII, Proporco, FMO, etc) and MDBs (AfDB, GCF, World Bank). Nothing wrong with them, but they would surely appreciate more private institutions to balance the system.