Though still eager to light up the globe with solar energy, Israel’s own “Captain Sunshine” has a new portfolio of renewable energy projects blowing in the wind.
American-Israeli solar pioneer Yosef Abramowitz, together with investor Ilan Goldstein, plans to deploy a $50 million wind energy program in Africa by the end of 2017, the partners told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
This capital will enable the establishment of the venture’s first approximately 20-megawatt wind farm in one of five African countries currently under review.
“As African countries are planning their energy programs, we want to prevent any plans for burning fossil fuels from coming about by giving green and inexpensive alternatives,” Abramowitz said. “Since we already have trusted relationships on solar, the energy ministers ask us for both wind and hydro, and we’re trying to meet those needs in these countries.”
Gigawatt Global Wind, which will be officially launched at the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Conference on Monday, is a collaboration between Goldstein and American-owned Dutch developer Gigawatt Global, where Abramowitz is co-founder and president.
Abramowitz is also president and co-founder of the Jerusalem- based Energiya Global Capital, the research and development arm of Gigawatt Global.
The companies are perhaps best known for inaugurating East Africa’s first commercial scale solar installation, adjacent to Rwanda’s Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, in February 2015.
Goldstein, whose work primarily involves the American and Israeli real estate business, was an early investor in Israel’s only operating wind on the Golan Heights. Finding Gigawatt Global’s work in the solar sector “very inspirational,” Goldstein said that he and Abramowitz got together last year and began talking.
“That led us to see the light and see the potential of doing wind together,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein and Abramowitz were among the delegates to accompany Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his trip to East Africa in July, where they began testing the waters for projects in Kenya and Ethiopia, Abramowitz explained.
Commenting on the fact that Captain Sunshine will now be expanding his repertoire to include wind, Abramowitz responded, “[Goldstein] actually has an alter ego.”
“[Abramowitz] calls me Captain ‘Luftgesheft,’” Goldstein added. “It means wind in German and Yiddish, and of course it means that a new wind is blowing in Africa, and we’re looking to bring positive winds, blowing in a new, positive direction.”
Gigawatt Global Wind’s financing currently comes from equity investors, and the company is associated with the US government’s Power Africa program, which was a supporter of the Rwanda solar field.
Misha Nataf, the director of business development at Gigawatt Global Wind, said that the team has narrowed down its priority countries to Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Tanzania and Senegal.
“I hope Kenya is going to materialize faster than the other ones,” Nataf said. “I believe that Kenya has the potential to bring about the project by the end of 2017.”
Ideally, according to Nataf, this would occur under the umbrella of a combined wind and solar project. While the larger Gigawatt Global and Energiya Global have already secured an initial approval for a 10-megawatt solar field in Kenya, the partners are actually hoping to build a larger 20-megawatt solar field and a 20-megwatt wind farm there side-by-side.
“This is our vision,” Nataf said.
“We are very confident that we can do it, and one of the main things is that wind in Kenya is very strong.”
Kenya is currently home to the largest wind farm project in sub-Saharan Africa, a 300-megawatt facility, Nataf explained.
“They are hungry for wind power because of the strong winds coming in from the Indian Ocean,” he said, stressing his hopes that their projects will have added impact due to the intended remote locations of their facilities.
In such far-off regions, co-locating a wind and solar project would be particularly appropriate, because the grid lines and substations necessary for both facilities are all the same, according to Abramowitz. The partners would offer governments a “full value package,” likely working with another associated company to run transmission lines and build roads to these remote areas, making them overall more accessible, Goldstein added.
At the United Nations Conference on Climate Change – Conference of Parties 22 (COP-22) in Marrakesh this month, some 47 countries pledged to work toward employing 100% renewable energy by 2050. In light of these commitments, Abramowitz stressed the importance of ensuring that African nations building their electricity sectors choose such clean energy sources to power their people. While his career has thus far focused on solar energy, he emphasized how wind can be more reliable in the evenings, creating a synergetic combination of electricity sources.
“We hope to be the first to pioneer the colocation of solar and wind,” Abramowitz said. “We’re even flying a hydro option as a company now.”
“If you can get to a point where you can combine all three, certain countries can get to 100% renewable, and we would be honored to play that key role in bringing about that dream, which was affirmed at Marrakesh last week at COP-22,” he said.