With a project pipeline set to generate 4,000 MW and connect seven million homes, few global organisations are looking to have such an impact on Africa’s infrastructural evolution as the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA).
For nearly 30 years, this U.S. government agency has established links between African project sponsors and US companies operating across transport, IT and energy sectors; subsequently playing an active role in initiating more than 500 projects on the continent.
As such, few are as excited as USTDA about the 5th Powering Africa Summit’s impending arrival in Miami this February, either.
“We’ve been a partner of EnergyNet’s for a number of years and have sponsored the Powering Africa conference for a long time; both when hosted in Africa, and across their programmes around the world,” recalls USTDA’s Acting Director, Thomas R. Hardy. “It’s an important opportunity to bring together the right people from across the continent and US industry, as a one-stop shop to meet with people who you would otherwise need to travel great distances to meet.
“This year, we’ll be investing our Agency’s time and resources heavily into the event, sending down a vast portion of our sub-Saharan African team to make sure we have as much coverage as possible; to meet with future clients and current partners from both the public and private sector at the 5th Powering Africa Summit.”
Flexible assistance from start to finish
There is a natural synergy between USTDA and the event, given both entity’s commitment to enriching industry in Africa.
The former was designed as a US Government Agency that could support partners in emerging markets, and to therefore help to make informed decisions on the infrastructures these partners were investing in – namely, energy, transport and telecommunications.
Hardy explains: “We do it in a way that introduces all potential solutions. Our investment strategy is flexible to what US companies are looking for in terms of opportunities, and what emerging markets around the world - including Africa - are excited for as long-term, stable projects.”
Essentially, the USTDA is a frontline facilitator of project preparation and assistance, shaping projects from feasibility study, to technical undertaking, to completion.
“This is for both private and public projects,” Hardy adds. “Whatever the requirement, we are designed to help our overseas partners make decisions on ways in which they want to invest in or improve priority infrastructures.”
Facilitating access to new markets and new opportunities
As one of the world’s more rapidly evolving emerging markets, Africa unsurprisingly accounts for the biggest percentage of projects in the USTDA portfolio.
From an energy perspective, this includes everything from base load power plants in the gas sector, to renewables, smart grid infrastructure, or the continuum of the energy cycle across its entire value chain so as to increase power access to partners across the continent.
“Our staff work tirelessly to find the best opportunities at either federal, municipal or private level and over the years this has resulted in numerous high profile, and nationally significant projects,” Hardy says.
Early successes in Nigeria, and alongside industry giants like Dangote, are testament to the Agency’s work; in each case finding suitable synergies with US technical knowhow and interested investors.
Hardy continues: “A good recent example is a company from the DC area called SparkMeter who we’ve been working with to help them deploy smart meters in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. That work will be a platform for the company to launch that product across Africa at large, as well as an opportunity for Nigeria’s energy sector to be improved.
“So, in terms of the process, the work we are doing with SparkMeter in Southern Nigeria will hopefully lead to future projects presenting themselves across the continent, in markets they may not have otherwise had access to.”
A unique pivot point for both the US and Africa
Over the years, partnerships and projects like this have been typical of the influence the USTDA has formed in Africa. As a US Government agency, and the support of partners like EnergyNet in tow, the Agency has been able to play a primary role in numerous projects getting off the ground; from concept, to financing.
“We’re the natural starting point for US companies looking to break into the African market, as well as for our African partners looking to American technologies and services that they may not otherwise be aware of,” Hardy affirms. “We’re a unique pivot point for both sides.”
This pivot from an energy point of view has facilitated inceptions into the continent for the likes of SparkMeter, as well as larger-scale, ground-breaking infrastructure projects.
“In the past couple of years alone, an innovative hydro project has been implemented, we’ve been involved in renewable energy activities, LNG terminals, smart grid development – we operate across the full spectrum of the energy sector, applying US solutions and technologies to African opportunities.”
The heart and soul of the USTDA’s programme is this project preparation work where it has enjoyed vast amounts of success. Focusing on areas where US industry can actively engage with African companies, the Agency can subsequently marry its development mandate with its trade mandate to fulfil the ultimate win-win situation.
Bringing the whole ecosystem together under one roof
‘Win-win’ is exactly what Hardy and the USTDA is looking to achieve at this year’s Powering Africa Summit, too.
“The most important part of being there is the opportunity to meet with the real project developers in Africa’s energy space,” he explains. “If you look at our Port Harcourt project, or our gas-fired power development in Gauteng; for these kinds of projects to go from concept, to idea, to financial close, to MWs on the board, it takes events like this to bring the right people together.
“By bringing the whole ecosystem together under one roof, these kinds of important projects can be discovered and realised.”
USTDA will be keeping a close eye on discussions surrounding gas-fired power this year, in line with recent trend progressions; ensuring it can continue to play a role in helping countries make investment decisions that are both sustainable on their continent, while also a natural fit with the types of solutions and technical capabilities coming out of the US.
It’s also a chance to learn, though. Far from being a place to solely initiate deals based on known trends, it’s an opportunity to hear from the “best and the brightest” about their own forecasts for Africa’s ongoing energy revolution.
“By listening to these great people, we can see how best to continue playing an active and important role in the space moving forward,” Hardy concludes. “As an Agency, USTDA is excited about what we’re seeing project-wise at the moment, whether it’s a small-scale renewables project, or a larger-scale gas infrastructure project.
“We need to also be aware of where the growth opportunities of the future lie, and that’s what we will look to learn over the course of the three days in Miami.
“In doing so, we’ll be able to continue helping countries make the right economic decisions as part of our mutual goal to Power Africa.”
Thomas R. Hardy, Director (Acting), U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) will be speaking on Monday the 25th February at the Powering Africa: Summit in Miami. Download the agenda here for more information