Supplying remote and rural communities with precious power in Africa
One-on-One with Trey Jarrard & Amy Carabajal, Renewvia Energy
Please let me know a little bit about yourself and Renewvia Energy that you run as the Chief Executive Officer?
I have been involved in other technology companies and sectors but Renewvia is the most fulfilling professional endeavor of my life. I felt that way prior to expanding the companies reach into off grid in Africa but the gratitude only increased with this much more impactful effort. My interests are vast but mostly center around being out in the world and wilderness.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work as CEO, the decentralized utilities sector in general, and Renewvia more specifically?
COVID decelerated Renewvia’s capitalization effort by over a year. The company had just closed on an equity round fully dedicated to a portfolio of minigrid sites in Kenya and Nigeria when supply chain and ability to mobilize halted. Following on financing was contingent on successful implementation of this portfolio thus slowing the companies advancement in the off grid space materially. One year in minigrid time is ions. We needed to be proving the company’s ability during 2020 with all the stakeholders. Having to sit on our hands for months made it difficult to start the conversations again. There were multiple expressions of support that did not materialize when needed in early 2020 and further stressed the company’s operational ability. The sector suffered due to the inability to efficiently operate and maintain existing systems due to confusion of how to deal with essential services in the beginning of the pandemic.
What project are you most proud of and what are some of your biggest accomplishments?
We are proud of all our off grid projects but our first projects on two islands in Lake Victoria built at the same time remains my most proud time in the sector thus far. A close second is Kalobeyei Settlement where Renewvia is taking a bigger risk to provide a reliable and affordable source of power for a community that KPLC will not serve even though their lines travel through and by the area. Most feel a refugee settlement is transient and would not consider installing permanent infrastructure. Renewvia with partial funding of GIZ installed permanent medium voltage and conventional distribution to one of the villages in the settlement and is expanding to a second in 2022.
Speaking of projects, what should we be looking out for from Renewvia?
Renewvia just completed 12 new minigrids in Kenya and Nigeria with all of them being constructed in tandem. Renewvia self performs all aspects of the minigrid development and has expanded it’s platform by double in the last year. One of the 12 projects is an island named Emeroke in the Niger Delta in Aka Ibom State. Renewvia will be serving over 2000 people and businesses in the community and will have built over 8km of distribution to complete the system.
What does success look like in the minigrid development business, and how do you measure it at Renewvia?
Success to me looks like graduating to a conventional financing structure where banks are lending long term debt at market interest rates allowing for tariffs to be reduced by up to or more than 50%.
“Another way we are measuring success is to measure the impact or the improvement in quality of life for our customers and the communities we serve as a whole. We recognize that impact is a crucial piece to our business and to our investors as well. We developed our own methodology to capture the data we need in order to accurately report our impact and we have already surveyed over 3,500 people in Nigeria and Kenya. Our targets and subtargets fall under the categories of Gender Equality, Safety, Health, Productivity and Business Activity. Seeing improvement in quality of life in these areas and being able to quantify these improvements is a way we will continue to measure success as we grow.” Amy Carabajal, Director of Impact.
Please take a look at these clips to discover the impact of our work within the community:
Looking at recent trends in the energy market, what would you say are the existing challenges and opportunities?
I’m mostly worried about changes in regulation similar to what happened in Tanzania. Essentially it is always concerning for the sector when momentum is picking up and overnight it is thwarted by a stroke of a pen.
How do you see Renewvia changing in the next 2 to 5 years, and what impact do you see yourself, as a leader, making?
Renewvia will become an expert in offgrid custom service and support including stimulating demand in ways that benefit the individual and community (e.g., promoting pressure cooking instead of solid fuels)
Do you have any plan to expand the business in other African countries?
Renewvia is constantly looking at other countries and plans to expand when three things can be realized. First is efficient and economical permitting process, second is protection of asset in the form of proper federal exclusive licenses and third is ability to charge a cost reflective tariff. If regulators of other stable African markets implement the same, Renewvia will be aggressively pursuing expansion in those markets.
How is Renewvia supporting the sustainable growth of the minigrid sector in Africa?
By focusing on a market where we are confident we can execute. If successful in the near term in two markets, Renewvia will be in a position to unlock substantial additional capital and be in a position increase velocity to institutional ticket sizes and servie many more thousands or millions of people living without reliable and affordable power.
Which business leaders or companies do you look to for inspiration? Fed Ex and logistics in general.
Switching gears a little bit, let us get to know you as a person: what is your favourite movie or television series, and what are you currently reading?
I have all but forgotten movies over the past two years but if I have to think of one of the top of my head over the last 10 years, I would say Wedding Crashers. Favorite TV series of all time was Seinfeld but I like Yellowstone currently. I realize this is cliché but am reading Bill Gates Climate change book because I feel that I should have already completed it being in this business. I don’t necessarily agree with all the content such as the part where Bill says solar is not the answer for Africa. That is a very bold statement that is not accurate in a general sense.
What is the one thing that people do not know about you – something interesting! I love riding motocross bikes, flying small planes and running marathons.
About Renewvia Energy
Renewvia Energy Corporation is a top 500 Global Solar Developer headquartered in Atlanta, Ga. They design, install, own and operate commercial and community solar power systems across multiple continents, and provide a complete range of solar energy solutions including turnkey solar installation, integrated financing and solar consulting services.
By Emmanuella Ngororano, Communications Associate