Masdar is a pioneer in advancing the clean energy sector

With the UAE hosting COP28 at Expo City, Dubai, Masdar’s commitment in stimulating the development of green energy comes into focus. African Business speaks with Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, Masdar’s Chief Executive Officer, about the company’s activities.


Image : Masdar

African Business: Mr Al Ramahi, thank you for talking to African Business. On behalf of those readers who may not be familiar with Masdar, please could you outline what is Masdar’s mandate?

Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi: Masdar has been a pioneer in advancing the clean energy sector since its formation by the leadership of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2006, and it is a key enabler of the UAE’s position as a global leader in sustainability and climate action.

As the UAE’s clean energy powerhouse, our mandate is to help drive global clean energy growth, to accelerate an equitable energy transition and to be at the forefront of tackling the climate challenge.

Today, we are active in more than 40 countries across six continents with a clean energy capacity of over 20 GW. We have invested, or are committed to invest, in worldwide projects with a combined value of more than $30bn.

It is now widely accepted that in order to avoid a climate catastrophe, the world needs to move away from the use of hydrocarbons. However, many African countries rely on the export of hydrocarbons as a significant part of their GDP. How can this apparent dilemma be resolved?

It is important to remember that the energy transition is just that: a transition. We cannot turn off the energy system of today without properly investing in the energy system of tomorrow.

That is why further investment and acceleration of renewables is key to advancing the energy transition. This is precisely what Masdar is focused on, and Africa has tremendous potential to be a clean energy powerhouse.

This begins with a recognition of the huge benefits from developing Africa’s clean energy potential. Solar, wind and green hydrogen can help countries reduce their reliance on imports of less sustainable fuel sources. Renewable energy sources give African countries a greater level of security and consistency over energy supply and pricing.

Renewable energy is cheaper, wind farms and solar plants are quicker to build and they can also bring energy independence. That’s why it is important to accelerate investing in Africa at a time when the impetus and momentum is so clearly in the direction of renewable and clean energy.

Utilising cross-border transmission networks and regional power markets will enable African nations to share renewable energy resources and develop interconnected energy systems. This cooperative approach maximises efficiency, enhances regional energy security, and fosters the collective growth of the renewable energy sector across the continent.

With some of the best wind, and solar resources in the world, Africa will play a key role in the global energy transition. Masdar is committed to unlocking that potential and is the largest renewable energy company in Africa, through our joint venture Infinity Power and our direct developments and investments across the continent.

In your opinion, is there the potential for North Africa to export clean energy to southern Europe?

Most definitely. To give you an example of how Africa could use its abundance of energy sources to supply power to Europe, look at the memorandum of understanding (MoU) that Masdar’s joint-venture, Infinity Power, signed with the Greek energy company Copelouzos Group in May this year to explore the supply of green energy to Greece via the Greece-Egypt electrical interconnection (GREGY).

GREGY has the potential to connect Egypt directly with mainland Greece through a submarine cable of 3 GW capacity to carry 100% green energy from Egypt to Greece, and through Greece to Europe.

With reference to the previous question on exports of hydrocarbons by African countries, I think many countries in Southern Europe will be far more interested in importing clean energy in the future.

Masdar has been established for some 17 years. Can you outline and perhaps quantify the company’s achievements in that time?

Masdar has a proven record of advancing the commercialisation and deployment of renewable energy and clean technologies to address the world’s sustainability challenges.

The electricity generation capacity of our projects, from all of solar PV, concentrated solar power, electric storage, geothermal energy, waste-to-energy, and onshore and offshore wind – which are either fully operational, under development or secured – is more than 20 GW – enough to power 5.25m homes. Altogether, they are expected to displace more than 30m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – equivalent to taking 6.5m cars off the road.

Our aim is to become the world’s largest clean energy company by 2030, with a total capacity of more than 100 GW of renewable energy and 1m tonnes of green hydrogen production capacity.

It is notable that Masdar has paid particular attention to Africa’s need to develop its energy infrastructure. What are Masdar’s future plans in supporting the continent’s move to clean energy?

We view Africa as a key strategic market with abundant renewable energy potential.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that it is home to 60% of the best solar resources globally, but houses only one per cent of installed solar PV capacity.

The African Development Bank has published estimates suggesting Africa has a potential capacity of 10 TW of solar power.

But it’s not just solar. The IEA estimates that the sub-Saharan region of Africa has 1,300 GW of wind energy potential and the continent has the capacity to produce 5,000 megatonnes of hydrogen per year.

Our Infinity Power joint venture, which recently acquired Lekela Power, is the largest pure play operator and developer of renewable power in Africa, with an operating portfolio of 1.3 GW.

As a first mover in pioneering energy projects in Africa for over a decade, Masdar currently holds more than 2 GW of renewable energy assets across Africa and is targeting 10 GW by 2030.

To date, most Masdar initiatives have been in developing the huge potential of wind and solar projects in Africa. Is this likely to continue or do you see alternative green energy systems increasingly being utilised in the continent?

At Masdar, we understand that the energy transition can transform Africa’s economic prospects and unleash the continent’s clean energy potential. And we are committed to helping it achieve that goal.

It’s true that we are very heavily invested in wind and solar projects in Africa and the figures I have already quoted provide ample evidence for why we are so committed to those renewable sources. Our recent announcement of an agreement to secure land to build a 10 GW capacity onshore wind farm in Egypt underscores our commitment to these technologies.

However, we also recognise Africa’s potential in the green hydrogen sector. A report produced by Masdar and Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week at the time of COP27, with analytical support from McKinsey & Company, estimated Africa could capture up to 10% of the global green hydrogen market, creating up to 3.7m jobs and adding as much as $120bn to the continent’s gross domestic product.

On that point, I should mention that Masdar signed an agreement in April 2022 to develop 4 GW capacity green hydrogen plants in Egypt, including a 2 GW green hydrogen project in the Suez Canal Economic Zone.

Geothermal technology will also have an important role in the future energy mix of Africa. The countries of the East African Rift region have significant geothermal potential for electricity production, as well as for direct use. Harnessing these resources can provide a renewable, affordable, and stable energy supply. It can also help governments meet the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the climate objectives set out by the Paris Agreement.

Masdar has established two particularly important strategic Initiatives – WiSER and Y4S. Can you explain their objectives?

WiSER – Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy – is a global platform that champions women as leaders of sustainable change. Founded in 2015, it is focused on three core pillars: education, engagement and empowerment.

WiSER recognises that more needs to be done to support women in the global mission to tackle climate change

It provides leadership training and mentorship available via the WiSER Pioneers Program.

The global #IAmWiSER campaign urges policymakers, industry leaders and the public to take the #IAmWiSER pledge to champion women as agents of sustainable change.

WiSER also supports community development through cultural exchange.

For example, the WiSER Cares Program, launched in August 2022, sent a team of young professional women to live with, and learn from, an off-grid community in rural Rwanda. The team gained a deeper understanding of energy access issues.

Y4S – Youth 4 Sustainability (Y4S) – is a Masdar global initiative that seeks to empower the next generation of sustainability leaders.

More than 38,000 young people, aged between 18 and 35, have participated in Y4S activities since 2016. It deploys a combination of virtual and real-life events to teach members about sustainability and leadership skills.

Y4S aims to reach one million young people globally by 2030, through this blended learning experience. It is also focused on raising awareness of the skills young people need to secure future sustainability jobs. Y4S does this via its Future Sustainability Leaders and Sustainability Ambassadors programs, and global outreach activities.  

At the inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi this September, Masdar announced a partnership with Africa50, the pan-African infrastructure investment platform, to identify, fast-track and build clean energy projects across the continent. Does the partnership have any particular projects in mind?

It is a little too early at this stage to discuss projects arising from the pan-African infrastructure investment platform we announced with Africa50. We will work with our partners to align on priorities and agree implementation plans. All I can say is: watch this space – and I am confident about the prospects of this partnership to catalyse the sustainable development of the energy sector across Africa.

The UAE made a huge $4.5bn pledge to Africa in Nairobi. How will this funding be utilised?

As a nation, the UAE has sought to raise public and private sector funds to invest in the development of Africa’s renewable energy sector with the Etihad 7 initiative, announced in January 2022, which set a target of 20 GW capacity to supply 100m people across the continent with clean electricity by 2035.

Masdar has been heavily involved in the initiative, with agreements for projects with a combined generation capacity over 7 GW in Uganda, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

As part of the UAE’s new Finance Initiative, unveiled at Africa Climate Week in Nairobi, Masdar announced it was committing an additional $2bn of equity and mobilising an extra $8bn in project finance, targeting 10 GW of clean energy projects in Africa by 2030.

The new model seeks to bring key stakeholders together to accelerate development and delivery of infrastructure, generation and distribution solutions to close the gap in universal clean energy access in Africa.

It aims to create pathways for multilateral development banks, governments, and philanthropies to catalyse additional private sector investment.

But it also requires African leaders to improve policy and regulatory frameworks to attract the long-term investments necessary to accelerate deployment of clean and renewable energy.

As COP28 President-Designate and Masdar Chairman HE Dr Sultan Al Jaber noted: “The initiative will prioritise investments in countries across Africa with clear transition strategies, enhanced regulatory frameworks and a master plan for developing grid infrastructure that integrates supply and demand.”

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