Israel joins US-led ‘Power Africa’ to bring electricity to millions

Dozens of local companies set to benefit from billion-dollar contracts.

November 21, 2017 22:14
3 minute read.
ISRAELI ENTREPRENEUR Yosef Abramowitz (left), whose company is poised to invest $2b. in wind, hydro

ISRAELI ENTREPRENEUR Yosef Abramowitz (left), whose company is poised to invest $2b. in wind, hydro and solar projects in African countries, welcomes (left to right) US Sen. Chris Coons, U2 frontman Bono, and solar partner Chaim Motzen to a solar site in Rwanda.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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The government will partner with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and join its Power Africa program, connecting millions of people across the African continent to the electrical grid with renewable energy projects, along with granting access for dozens of Israeli companies to multi-billion- dollar deals.

Israeli companies will now be eligible to receive USA ID grants to penetrate the African market, enjoying the American government’s contractual and diplomatic largesse. While Israel has only 12 ambassadors to cover 54 African countries – many of whom have no formal relations with the Jewish state – the United States has an ambassador to almost every country on the continent.

This diplomatic leverage will allow Israeli companies to negotiate hefty contracts in countries where there is no official Israeli presence, advancing major clean-energy projects and counterbalancing advantages otherwise held by Chinese solar companies.

News of the partnership with one the largest aid projects worldwide leaked out on Tuesday, and shortly afterwards an invitation went out from the Ministry of Economy to Israeli entrepreneurs to attend the signing agreement between the US and Israel on December 4.

The event will see key African heads of state and ministers, the US Ambassador, and other Israeli government officials convene in Jerusalem.

Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office who played a major role in negotiating the agreement with USA ID, told The Jerusalem Post, “Our vision is that we can best benefit the economy by leveraging what the government is good at and to let the private sector do what it’s good at.

“The US has a vision of the electrification of Africa and the United States was very interested in pushing that forward. Africa was very interested in getting access to electricity. And Israel has the put together this trilateral effort.”

Israel’s participation in Power Africa comes on the heels of multiple visits by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the continent in 2016 – visiting Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Ethiopia – and is a sign of burgeoning diplomatic and economic ties. Aside from the Prime Minister’s Office, the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPA C) also played a major role in the negotiations to get Israel into the Power Africa program, a sign that the continent is playing a greater role in the US-Israel strategic relationship.

“This move is the result of the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to strengthen ties with many countries in the world,” Groner said.

“The move also reflects our close relations with the United States, as well as Israel’s deepening relations with African countries.”

Electricity isn’t the only service on the table, as one Israeli entrepreneur – speaking on condition of anonymity – said that along with power, several African leaders want to broker energy-reliant agricultural and water-management contracts with Israeli companies.

One Israeli-American firm, Energiya Global, is poised to invest $2 billion into wind, hydro and solar projects in 10 African countries over the next five years. Energiya was behind the first connected solar project on the African continent, the 8.5 megawatt solar field in the Agahozo-Shalom youth village, powering 6% of Rwanda’s electricity alone.

“This represents the historic new milestone in the US-Israeli relationship,” said Energiya Global CEO Yosef Abramowitz, a founding partner of Power Africa and who played a match-making role in negotiations between the Israeli and American governments.

“It will not only provide economic growth in Africa but will advance US and Israeli jobs, advance women’s empowerment and will repel the advance of Islamic jihadist ideology which exploits economic vulnerability throughout the continent. Israel, by joining Power Africa, can be a superpower of goodness because there’s a strong nexus between energy, water and agriculture which Israel excels at.”

While Israel is helping to electrify large parts of the African continent, its neighbors next-door, Palestinians in Gaza, are living with a few hours of intermittent power daily. Abramowitz, who serves on US President Trump’s private- sector task-force for Palestinian energy, declined to comment about separate electricity plans for Gaza at this stage.

Former US President Barack Obama helped launch the Power Africa program in 2013, and the initiative aims to connect around 60 million Africans to power sources by 2030. Two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa – or approximately 600 million people – lack reliable and regular connections to the electric grid.

Power Africa, which is led by USA ID, is connected to 12 different American federal government departments.

It has invested hundreds of millions of dollars annually in electrification projects.

The public-private initiative is projected to add some 30,000 megawatts of clean power generation to the continent, about twice Israel’s electoral output.

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