In conversation with Hussain Al Nowais

Multinational Independent Power Producer AMEA Power is focused on delivering renewable energy solutions to emerging markets in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. AMEA Power’s Chairman Hussain Al Nowais explains to Bill Lumley his passion for investment in wind and solar energy across the African continent


One of the most outstanding stories in the region is the speed with which AMEA Power has grown in a short period of time. Between the inception of the organisation and today, you have already built a significant pipeline. Can you outline a timeline of this and other key projects AMEA Power has going forward, under development or in construction, to get a vision of the direction you are looking to take?

We began in 2015 when Egypt and Jordan were our first entry into this business. Our largest exposure in the company is 1,000 MW in Egypt, which comprises 500 MW of wind and 500 MW of solar.

These two projects are on target to achieve financial close in November this year. Once financial close is achieved, the construction of both the wind project and the solar project will be launched. We are working in this regard with a major development financial institution. The EPC contractor and the permits are ready. So basically, it’s a ready-to-go project. 

In Jordan we have 100 MW in operation, comprising 50 MW of wind and 50 MW of solar. We have also successfully connected our first developed project in sub-Saharan Africa to the grid, a solar power plant in Togo, West Africa. These three renewable energy projects reached commercial operation in the year 2021. 

The Togo project is one I’m particularly proud of. We took the whole project from inception to completion in just 18 months, building a 50 MW solar plant in Blitta in the north of the country. I’m not just proud of that project, but I’m also most grateful to the president of Togo, who awarded me with the Commander of the Order of Mono medal in recognition and appreciation for the speed with which we carried out the entire project, despite the fact that it was undertaken during the Covid-19 pandemic. There were all kinds of challenges that we had to overcome, yet we were able to deliver the project successfully. The solar power plant is currently in operation, the client is happy and so are we. And in fact, they are now extending our concession to an additional 20 MW with battery storage.

What challenges did you face and how did you manage to overcome them?

We advanced our equity and did not wait for financial close to fulfil the commitment I made to the government for the construction to start immediately. 

The debt financing came in after the project had begun construction, by which time we had already extended large sums of cash from our equity funds. So, we funded it, and then received financing from the West African Development Bank, together with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. It was confidence and a passion for success that drove us to complete the project, which is in operation today.

Now we have started construction on a 26.6 MW solar plant in Burkina Faso. This is a challenging geography and also a challenging time. Despite these hurdles, we have already embarked on the construction of the solar power plant. The debt financing for the project came from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the IFC-Canada Climate Change Program and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund (EAIF).  

In addition to Burkina Faso, we have also launched the construction of a 34 MW solar plant in the north of Morocco, with a local partner. The construction is being financed by local banks in Morocco. 

Morocco is a significant market for us, as it has established itself as a regional leader in clean energy, pushing forward a number of large-scale renewable energy projects. Morocco’s target is to increase its renewables share to 52% by 2030, and we look forward to supporting the country in achieving its objective and diversifying its energy mix.

We are also on course to start construction by the end of this year on a 100 MW solar power plant in Tunisia, funded by two major development finance institutions. 

Two and a half years ago, AMEA Power was formally awarded the 100 MW solar power plant project in Kairouan after an international competitive tender aligned with the Tunisian government’s 2030 New Energy Vision, as part of a large 500 MW solar programme.

We were very excited about being awarded a large renewable energy project in one of our key target markets, and we are happy to support the country in achieving its objective to diversify its energy mix. 

AMEA Power is also undertaking a 30 MW solar project in Djibouti; a 50 MW solar project in Côte d’Ivoire, a 20 MW solar project in Uganda ; and a 50 MW wind plant in Kenya. We are also pursuing solar and wind opportunities in Ethiopia, Zambia, South Africa and others. In our portfolio today we have secured about 2000 MW, and we have another 1000 MW of prospective pipeline that we are pursuing across the continent of Africa. AMEA Power will then become a 3 GW power company.   

Can I ask you what your vision is in the medium to long term in Africa?

We passionately believe in Africa. We saw the potential of Africa and in the subcontinent, sub-Saharan Africa, six years ago, when we saw the shortage of power combined with the demand for power. We went ahead and took the risk. A lot of people did not believe that things can move in Africa. It’s true, it takes time, you have to be patient there. You also have to work closely with the clients and share knowledge on the concept of IPP, as some are not familiar with this scheme. But I am delighted to say that we are now making great progress and creating impact. We credit this to our teams and our various partners.

Our approach is to work hand-in-hand with our partners and clients. We believe in the spirit of partnership, and we are committed to the communities we work in. 

And again, I come back to Togo. We succeeded there because we worked hand in hand with the government as a partner. We trained the local community on the construction and the operation. We spent a great deal of time and effort in sharing knowledge and training them. 

We contributed to their social needs, by building (and providing equipment) to a clinic, and building and renovating schools for the community. 

Partnership with the community is a theme and a philosophy we have adopted in Africa. We are in their communities and in their villages. You need partnership; you need to have that common trust and common belief in the project and the need of the society.

We understood the continent, we understood the ways the different countries and communities operate, and we work with them as partners. With an open book, transparent and supportive approach, we follow the rules, we follow the ethics, we follow the code of conduct, and we work hand in hand with the communities and the government.

Looking ahead in terms of the whole area of decarbonisation, can you outline your strategy, what you’ve achieved in this regard so far, and what your plans have regard for the future?

We are now focusing on providing wind power, solar power and battery storage, when needed, delivering this all in a diverse and challenging geographic environment.

There are now two new angles we are pursuing in Africa, two areas we are working on. The first is the green hydrogen concept, which is becoming extremely attractive in Africa, given the wealth of solar and wind resources available in a number of African countries.

The second new aspect we are pursuing is that of water. There is a distinct scarcity of water in Africa, and several countries have a great need for it. For this reason, we are pursuing projects such as desalination – treating sea water and converting it to drinking water and usable water. This process will again happen through green power – using reverse osmosis technology and powering the process through green power.

We are also pursuing green hydrogen, because, again, hydrogen is central to decarbonisation, the process of reduction of carbon emissions which everyone in the energy business is keen to pursue through the green hydrogen business and the green ammonia business.

In this regard I’m proud to say that we have signed an MoU for our first green hydrogen project, which we have now started to develop in Egypt. In parallel, we’re pursuing green hydrogen opportunities in three other countries in Africa, but it’s still at an early stage. We are keen on pursuing carbon emission mitigation through decarbonisation by strongly applying the clean climate philosophy. 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced, how have you overcome them to get where AMEA Power is today and what future challenges you expect to face the coming months and years?

Time. It takes longer to deliver in Africa than we are normally used to for several reasons, the system and the processes and sometimes the knowledge building with the team there, the understanding of the processes, the understanding of the PPP model, the understanding of the IPP model, the understanding of the BOOT model. These are new terms for many in the business. Some of them have advanced, some of them are very advanced and others are getting there.

I have confidence having met a lot of young African officials. They are very capable, very competent and they are learning fast, all ambitious to grow their continent and their country’s position as equal with the rest of the world.

Can you give me any examples of how you managed to turn opportunities into projects that you’ve subsequently delivered in a very short period of time? 

To return to the example of Togo, I met the president of Togo, HE Faure Gnassingbé. A great visionary leader, who talked about his vision to go green and wanting to develop a solar project. 

We signed an MoU and we embarked on the journey to work with the team, and to share knowledge about the process. We promised to deliver on time, and we delivered on time, working with the partners, the community, the government, the banks, and using our equity. I think this is a model of how things can happen. We managed to deliver the first large-scale IPP renewable energy project in record time. 

Can I ask why you’re so committed to such an investment with a high proportion of your projects in Africa?

We saw the huge potential in sub-Saharan Africa, given that around 167 MW is consumed per million people there. By contrast Germany, for example, has 3,851 MW per million people. Egypt by contrast has 1,099 MW per million. 

We opted to focus on the area and the geography where there is a shortage of power. In terms of ratios of power versus people, it’s very low on the African continent compared with the Middle East, Europe or the US.

Speaking of renewables, in which we believe very strongly, we did not pursue investment in any thermal HFO or thermal power because the availability of resources in Africa in terms of sun and wind is outstanding: it’s a free fuel. You don’t have to pay for this fuel. Your investment is just the equipment and manpower to convert it to power.

If you take a country like Burkina Faso, it is 1,500km away from any port where they may be able to collect HFO as a fuel. This means they’re paying for a huge cost for fuel not least because they’re paying a huge cost for transporting that fuel. Yet they have a fantastic natural resource from which to get power: the sun. Okay, they don’t get it 24 hours a day, but they do have sunshine for at least 10 hours a day. You add a couple of hours of battery storage, you can take it up to 14 or 15 hours.

Do you see AMEA Power being ahead of the game and setting gold standards in Africa? 

We are committed to our belief in the subcontinent. We work hard, we have a large team of people at AMEA Power comprising a mix of 30 different nationalities from all over the world, including Africa, Asia and Europe. They are all dedicated and believe in one theme, which is to succeed and to grow. 

Africa has always been a geography we liked, we have succeeded there, and we want to continue. We have more to do in Africa as the sky is the limit.

Our mid-term vision is to focus on Africa and the Middle East as far as geographies are concerned. Regarding the business areas, in addition to hydrogen and water, we’re also pursuing another direction, which is delivering power to mines. Many countries in Africa, such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and DRC, have strong mining operations that need power. The world is now seeing a high demand for copper, zinc, and cobalt for example, so this is an important growth area as well for AMEA Power.

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