Land-based plans to expand access to electricity have been hit by restrictions related to the Covid-19 virus, which is why one of the world’s largest operators of floating power plants is in talks to bring power primarily to two West African countries.
Karpowership, the unit of Turkey’s Karadeniz Energy Group, which already supplies eight African countries, is leveraging the high credibility of its mobile units to attract more customers, CEO Zeynep Harezi said via telephone from Istanbul, where its vessels are assembled.
Their vessels can be quickly connected to a land-based grid, avoiding the bureaucratic and construction hassles involved in building a traditional power plant. In addition, these come with their own fuel: liquefied natural gas and fuel oil.
“We hope to put a ship in the two countries before the end of this year,” Harezi said, without determining which two countries his company was in talks with. Karpowership executives met Jan. 25 with Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute and discussed a possible power supply deal with the country’s main port, Douala, based in Yaounde.
The pandemic is dismantling steady progress made in sub-Saharan Africa, home to three-quarters of the world’s people without access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. For the first time since 2013, the number of people without power on the continent increased in 2020, when more than 590 million people lacked access. This is an increase of 13 million people, or 2%, over 2019, according to analysis in the IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2020 report.
Lack of financial resources from governments and private companies, as well as operational challenges that made it difficult to deploy energy solutions amid movement constraints are among the reasons for the setback, according to the report.
Karpowership, which supplies about 1,400 megawatts to countries in sub-Saharan Africa, aims to supply another 1,000 megawatts to existing and new customers in the region this year, Harezi said.
While the pandemic has increased the attractiveness of its model, it has also affected the company’s plans to list in London. “We have put it on the back burner because we are focusing on growing the business at the moment in a more flexible and agile way,” he said.
The fallout from Covid-19 has made it difficult to pay some of its customers on time, he said. “Because we are a private company, we can take it on rather than cutting off electricity or enforcing the contract word for word,” which could mean suspending services, for example.
In Lebanon, where Karpowership has two floating vessels responsible for a quarter of the country’s electricity generation capacity, non-payment to the company threatened to aggravate an electricity crisis.