(photo credit: REUTERS)
An American-Israeli led solar developer has been nominated for a US Department of State award of excellence in environmental sustainability following the successful construction of East Africa’s first utility-scale photovoltaic field.
Gigawatt Global, an American-owned Dutch company co-founded by Jerusalemite Yosef Abramowitz, launched the 8.5-MW field last February, at the Israeli-inspired Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. The $23.7 million field, located about 60 km. from Kigali in Rwanda’s Rwamagana district, supplies about 6 percent of the country’s power and is expected to harness the sun’s light for 25 years.
On Wednesday, the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs announced that the company was chosen as one of 10 finalists for the 2015 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, joined by only two other firms in the environmental sustainability category.
The winners for that and the human and labor rights and small or medium enterprise categories, are slated to be announced on March 1.
“Gigawatt Global in Rwanda revolutionized solar energy in East Africa, delivering 8.5 megawatts of grid-connected power that serves 15,000 homes in Rwanda, while providing the added benefit of rental income to the local community for use of their land,” the State Department said on Wednesday.
The company is competing against Texas Instruments for a sustainable architecture project in the Philippines and Weyerhaeuser Productos S.A. for a clean energy program in Uruguay.
In addition to its status as East Africa’s first utility- scale solar facility, Gigawatt Global’s Rwandan field is also the first project to be grid-connected under the framework of the US Power Africa initiative which President Barack Obama launched in June 2013, aiming to add more than 30 GW of cleaner energy to Africa, to power 60 million homes and businesses.
“It is an honor to be recognized by US Secretary of State John Kerry as one of the top three sustainable companies in the world, especially for our work in Rwanda, which was the first Power Africa connected energy project to be connected to the African grid and supplies green power to about 100,000 people,” “Captain Sunshine” Abramowitz told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Abramowitz is recognized as a founder of Israel’s commercial solar industry, responsible with a team of partners for the launch of the country’s first medium-sized field – the 4.9-MW Ketura Sun facility – during his work with the Arava Power Company. Since then, Arava Power has launched a 40-MW large-scale project across from Ketura Sun, as well as six other fields.
Shifting his focus in the past couple years to international projects, Abramowitz oversaw the launch of the 8.5-MW Rwandan field almost a year ago. Chaim Motzen, co-founder of Gigawatt Global alongside Abramowitz, was the driving force behind the Rwanda project.
“The Gigawatt leadership team is in Washington, DC, this week to coordinate with the American government [about] investing up to $2 billion through 2020 for similar solar power plants throughout the continent, so this is giving a boost to our efforts to bring power to the people of Africa,” Abramowitz said.
The field is situated on a 20-hectare plot overlooking the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, which is home to students orphaned during or after the Rwandan genocide. Established in December 2008, the village was the brainchild of Jewish South African-American attorney and philanthropist Anne Heyman, who died in a horse riding accident in January 2014. The fees paid by Gigawatt Global to lease the solar field’s land contribute to the village’s expenses.
“The Gigawatt leadership team is in Washington, DC, this week to coordinate with the American government investing up to $2 billion through 2020 for similar solar power plants throughout the continent, so this is giving a boost to our efforts to bring power to the people of Africa,” Abramowitz said.
Debt for the Rwandan field came from the Dutch Development Bank FMO and the Emerging Africa Infrastructure Fund, while mezzanine debt was provided by Norfund. Equity came from Scatec Solar – which also provided engineering, procurement and construction and operation and maintenance services for the project – as well as from Norfund and KLP Norfund.
Grants were received from the US Government’s Power Africa as well as from the Energy and Environment Partnership. Raffi Mardirosian served as a key project development partner, and legal representation was provided by Norton Rose Fulbright.
Outside of Rwanda, Gigawatt Global has a robust pipeline in sub-Saharan Africa solar projects, including a signed power purchase agreement in Burundi.
Meanwhile, Energiya USA, an affiliate of Gigawatt, is about to launch a field a 22.5-MW field in Glenn County, Georgia. Construction at the field, which will undergo testing in mid-February, is already complete, and the facility is slated to be connected to the electricity grid by the AIPAC Policy Conference in mid-March, Abramowitz said.