Worker Shortage Threatens $1.9 Billion of Green Power in Africa

Africa is awash in funds earmarked for green power. Now it just needs the people to help install it all.

“There is a significant shortage of skills on the ground, particularly at a project manager and site manager level,” said Adam Bruce, head of corporate affairs at Mainstream Renewable Power Ltd., a closely-held developer based in Dublin. “It’s caused by the fact that the renewables sector is growing so fast in the region.”

Mainstream is spearheading the Lekela Power platform, a $1.9 billion venture installing 1.3 gigawatts of power in four African countries by 2018. With 1.2 billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa living without access to an electricity grid, organizations from the United Nations to the European Union and U.S. Agency for International Development have stepped in to provide aid.

“For renewables in Africa, there’s not a shortage of debt,” said Anthony Marsh, chief executive officer for Frontier Markets Fund Managers Ltd. in London. “Multilateral banks and development funds are almost competing amongst themselves to provide money.”

Annual clean-energy investments in sub-Saharan Africa more than doubled to $5.4 billion euros in 2015, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The London-based researcher expects over 12 gigawatts of new wind, solar and geothermal power installed in the region in the next four years. The African Development Bank estimates $55 billion would be needed annually to light up the continent by the end of this decade.

“The power sector has proven to be quite profitable,” John Abdulai Jinapor, Ghana’s acting power minister, said last month at a renewable energy conference in London. “If you talk to most of the companies that have invested in Ghana, they are thinking of expanding.”

In order to maintain that growth, companies need to deepen local talent pools, according to Mainstream’s Bruce, whose partners on the Lekela Power platform include the International Financial Corp. and Actis LLP.

“Mainstream is employing large numbers of local people during the construction process and has a commitment to systematically transferring skills locally,” Bruce said. “At the same time Mainstream is trying to retain existing talent by paying market-related salaries and benefits and creating a healthy and stimulating work environment.”