No. 65: Marc Andreessen and Jean-Yves Ollivier Could Have a Lot in Common

Marc Andreessen’s frenetic pace on Twitter has fascinated me for the past year. He seems to devour a ton of information and makes nice connections between the current technology landscape and the history and theory that got us to this point. The New Yorker did a helpful profile on him – the kind that makes more human a titan some may worship.

Jean-Yves Ollivier is a new name to me, but one that I will be keeping track of after reading this Bloomberg piece on his energy sector dealmaking in the Republic of Congo. Apparently, he is trying to shape his brand through the media. Perhaps he should get on Twitter and fire off some Tweetstorms like Mr. Andreessen.

There’s a BBC piece on a lake in Mongolia made up of extremely toxic waste from rare earth minerals largely used in our smartphones and renewable energy sources like wind turbine engines and electric vehicle batteries. While the majority of these minerals are mined in Asia, some African countries like Malawi are exploring their potential to produce these minerals. South Africa was a leading producer half a century ago.

The unicorns (companies with $1 billion valuations) for which Marc Andreessen spends his time looking, largely rely on the smartphone. In defending against concerns that we are in a bubble due to the massive amount of money going into funding startups, he points out that the technology sector of 2000 did not have a conductor like the smart phone to enable the growth of the industry, hence the bust. We have the smartphone now and he believes that the software on those phones is eating the world, and the technology industry’s growth is here to stay for quite some time.

The robots that Mr. Andreessen envisions taking over menial jobs, freeing us up to do what we want, will most likely need parts from minerals in parts of the world like Mongolia and Malawi. Unless we come up with clean ways to source these materials, we could see lakes like the one in Baotou pop up in southern Malawi. Brokers like Mr. Ollivier are helping make these deals happen, enabling the creation of the smartphones, robots, and other tools that people like Mr. Andreessen believe will drive our future world. Two men. Two different worlds. Perhaps.

No. 20: African Countries Drive Geothermal Development Amid US-China Brinksmanship

A geothermal well at the Menengai crater. Credit: Suleiman Mbatiah

United Nations climate talks end today in South Africa and the United States and China are playing chicken on who will take the lead in stewarding the environment well while also driving economic development. Quietly, Kenya has signed major deals just this year that will see the opening of at least three plants that will grow Kenya’s geothermal capacity to 514 megawatts (MW) by 2014. By 2030, Kenya aims for geothermal energy to make up 5000 MW of the total 15,000 MW of power the country will produce to meet growing demand – an estimated $16 billion investment. Imagine that, an African country driving the uptake of clean and renewable energy.

Experts estimate that Kenya has the potential to generate 7,000 MW to 10,000 MW. The country began developing geothermal in the 1980s and currently produces about 209 MW. In 2008, the country set its geothermal power goal in the Vision 2030 strategic plan. Since that time Kenya has aggressively grown geothermal with the 36 MW expansion of the 48 MW Olkaria III, the construction of the 280 MW Olkaria IV, and the drilling of the 1,600 MW Menengai field.

Contrary to what the Wall Street Journal reported on December 6, Kenya is not the only African country developing geothermal energy. Kenya lies within the East African Rift System that runs 6,500km from Tunisia to Mozambique. In a recent conversation with Dr. Meseret Zemedkun of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), she explained that some countries in the East African region are looking to complement their current hydropower capacity, while others like Eritrea and Djibouti are looking for primary renewable energy sources. Ethiopia has drilled a pilot 7 MW plant. Eritrea is conducting detailed exploration. Djibouti is drilling wells, and Uganda and Rwanda are conducting semi-detailed and detailed exploration.

According to Dr. Zemedkun, “[African] countries are very keen to develop their resources.” She cited the high availability rate of geothermal compared to hydropower – 90-95 percent versus 50-55 percent. Changes in weather impact the availability of hydropower whereas geothermal energy is not impacted by changes in weather. Furthermore, enhanced technology is reducing the unit price of geothermal energy, increasing its accessibility to African countries.

Dr. Zemedkun is currently driving the African Rift Geothermal Project, an initiative that brings together several African countries in working to build their geothermal capacity. It also helps reduce the risks of exploration through exploration studies, site selection, and surface exploration. UNEP partners with the World Bank in this work, leveraging its risk mitigation fund to further the exploration of geothermal energy.

I am excited about the work Kenya is doing to develop its geothermal energy capacity. Its leadership has also kickstarted the exploration of geothermal energy in other countries along the East African Rift System. Hopefully, the US and China will figure out a way to do their part and contribute to the preservation of this earth while meeting the economic needs of their citizens.

No. 13: Business Exchange Encourages Business Deals Between Swiss and African Businesses

Business people from African countries and Switzerland will gather for the Fourth Swiss-African Business Exchange in Geneva this week to dig in and find ways to do business with one another. Exchange sessions will cover several topics including manufacturing, East African trade and investment opportunities and renewable energy.

The following manufacturers will make up part of the manufacturing panel and are sure to provide a solid on-the-ground perspective of manufacturing in African countries:

-Gary Hannam, Olivado Limited – avocado oil plant in Kenya
-Hans Peter Werder, HPW AG – dried fruit factory in Ghana
-Ramadhan Madabida, Tanzani Pharmaceutical Industries – pharmaceutical plant in Tanzania

Tony Hawkins, a professor at the University of Zimbabwe, painted a dreary picture of African manufacturing prospects. According to his assessment, South Africa generates 60 percent of the industrial output on the African continent. In the continent’s de-industrialization, Africa cannot compete with Asia which is producing high-tech products for the global market compared to the localized low-tech products African manufacturers are producing, according to Mr. Hawkins. Combatting this analysis are manufacturers like Nigeria’s Dangote Group which is successfully manufacturing rice, cement, flour, and other commodities for African countries. Dangote Cement’s initials will soon be scrolling across the London Stock Exchange.

Trade and investment opportunities in East Africa will be a topic covered by the following:

-H.E. Menilik Alemu – Ethiopian Ambassador to Switzerland
-H.E. Jacques Pitteloud – Swiss Ambassador to Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Somalia, and the Seychelles.
-Professor Maggie Kigozie, Executive Director, Uganda Investment Authority
-John Gara, Rwanda Development Board

As Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and the Seychelles continue their rapid growth, Switzerland will need to invest in establishing embassies solely focused on each of these countries. Between 2001 and 2010, Rwanda was one of the ten fastest growing countries in the world. Ethiopia was one of the six African countries on that list and is projected to retain that spot for the next five years. For Switzerland to maximize business relationships with these countries, a focused presence in each will be essential to success. One ambassador is not able to develop the deep relationships and knowledge of these very different countries, in efforts to support all types of relations with Switzerland.

Executives in the renewable energy sector include:

-Felix Obada – Managing Director/CEO, Global Biofuels Limited, Nigeria
-Jorgen Sandstrom – Deputy Managing Director, Addax Bioenergy Management SA, Sierra Leone

On his visit to Atlanta, Kenyan Ambassador to the United States Elkanah Odembo discussed the effort Kenya is making to be primarily reliant on renewable energies like solar power and geothermal energy by 2030. The African continent has a lot of sunlight and strong rivers among other resources. The opportunities to harness that energy responsibly will make for a great discussion.

The exchange line up is sure to make for stimulating discussion and the initiation of business deals that will contribute to the economic growth of African countries. Click on the following link for more information on the Swiss-African Business Exchange: