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Power For The People By The People

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From the boardwalks of Cape Town to the streetlights of Kigali, billions are being made out of renewable energy. It brings business and government together; it could end the days of smoke-belching coal-fired plants. It could answer Africa’s most burning question – power.

In 2011, many experts scoffed at the thought of Africa running on towering wind turbines and miles of solar panels. It was too expensive; it was inefficient and couldn’t stay charged. But, armed with new technology, a pack of young entrepreneurs dug deep to harness the wind and the sun of Africa, to power future generations.

In this continent, South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Programme (REIPPP) has moved the fastest. In a few short years, South African entrepreneurs have invested $13.25 billion to sell electricity back to Eskom, the country’s hard pressed power generator.

It is fierce competition. According to South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, 1,800 megawatts (MW) are on the grid and in the next two and half years, 92 projects will generate up to 6,327MW. Further investment into hydro, gas and nuclear power are also on the cards, says Zuma.

The faces driving this investment are fresh. Thirty-one-year-old Linda Olagunju who grew up in an African village by candlelight is now calling the shots in boardrooms. Homegrown entrepreneurs Luke Callcott-Stevens, Gavin James and Doug Jenman threw in their safe jobs for the cutting edge of renewable energy generation. These are a few of the young and restless generation of investors who are taking risks to charge Africa.

It’s a story that breezes through the wind turbines in South Africa to the landfills in Ghana to the underground heat of Kenya.

Some old heads, like nuclear physicist Kelvin Kemm, say that nuclear may yet have a bigger say. He believes three quarters of African countries can become nuclear within the next six years.

It all adds up to an exhilarating story of youth, vision, risk and reward. This month, FORBES AFRICA dedicates our cover story to it.

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