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SolarQuarter Africa magazine got an excellent opportunity to interview Rupesh Hindocha – Group CEO, Starsight Premier Energy Group (SPEG), and learned about the company, their projects, challenges being faced by the industry, and financing scenario in East Africa. He also shared his views on the future outlook of the sector and his company’s expansion plan.
Can you give a bit of background about yourself and the company?
I am currently the Group CEO of Starsight Premier Energy Group (SPEG). Born in Uganda, I spent most of my younger life in the UK and after graduating from University College London with an Economics degree, I worked in Investment Banking in London for Barclays and Credit Suisse before moving to Dubai where I worked for Credit Suisse and Standard Chartered. My focus was always on a fixed income in emerging markets with a geographical focus on the Middle East and Africa. Once I left banking I wanted to focus on clean energy in Sub-Saharan Africa and I founded Premier Solar Group in 2017.
SPEG is a JV set up in 2021 between Premier Solar Group and Starsight Energy, to offer sustainable power and storage solutions to C&I clients in East Africa. We leverage the deep expertise of both groups to ensure we deliver the benefits of smart renewable energy through best-in-class tailored solutions for our clients. Our operating company in Kenya, Premier Solar Solutions, is already a leading solar PV solutions provider to C&I clients across the country.
–Premier Solar Group was founded in 2017 and is part of a larger group of renewable energy development companies, operating since 2014, with financing and development experience on more than 60 MW of projects across Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia (including 30 MW in solar). Premier Solar Group offers end-to-end distributed solar PV solutions to its C&I clients in India, Sri Lanka, UAE, and East Africa. Services provided include load profiling, structural surveys, design, engineering, procurement, installation, testing, commissioning, financing, operation & maintenance (O&M), and remote monitoring.
–Starsight Energy was founded in 2015 and is a leading C&I solar power provider in West Africa with 41 MW of installed generating capacity, 33 MWh of battery storage, and 16,320 HP in cooling capacity across 547 sites in all Nigerian states and Ghana. Starsight delivers an end-to-end service, from assessing a client’s energy needs to the installation and maintenance of a renewable energy solution to ongoing technical support. Starsight Energy has consistently maintained the highest ESG credentials. The Company is backed by Helios Investment Partners and African Infrastructure Investment Managers.
Please give our readers a brief insight into the recent major projects done by your company in East Africa.
Premier Solar Solutions has to date delivered 17 projects, totaling 9,418 kWp, to a variety of clients. A further 3 projects totaling 12,300 kWp are currently under execution in Kenya. By end of 2022, SPEG will have delivered over 25 MWp of projects to our marquee clients in East Africa. Some of the larger projects we have completed recently in Kenya include an 1800 kWp rooftop system for UAL in Nairobi and a 1050 kWp rooftop system for Menengai Oil Refineries in Nakuru which takes their total system size to 1900 kWp over the 2 phases. We also completed a ground-mounted solar system, with a sophisticated BESS unit from Rolls Royce Germany, for Victory Farms in Homa Bay last year.
What are the challenges that the sector is facing currently and in your view how can they be tackled?
C&I solar is still a relatively nascent product in East Africa despite its maturity in other parts of the world. Initially, the sector faced reputational issues in East Africa with earlier systems not delivering to client expectations or the seller’s promises. However, a combination of educating the consumer on the benefits (and limitations) of a captive solar PV system, together with tighter regulations around the quality of imported solar goods and the licensing of developers and installers has gone some way to improving the quality and performance of systems, However, regulators are still working on comprehensive solar C&I policy frameworks in each country as well as facilities such as net metering and wheeling. Governments need to also take a look at how they incentivize the adoption of solar by the C&I sector by offering incentives such as import duty waivers. We are still a long way off from having an environment that is conducive to the growth of solar in the region as concerns still exist on the future of state-owned utilities should large energy users utilize solar as part of their energy mix. The best way of tackling the current challenges being faced by the industry is via regular dialogue between various stakeholders, something that Kenya is leading the way on in the region.
What about financing in East Africa?
End client financing was a big issue when we first entered the C&I sector in Kenya and probably the largest drag on the growth of the sector. Things have come a long way with specialist solar finance companies opening up as well as companies like ours who offer both the technical solutions and financing to clients in-house under a “one-stop shop” model. Clients want a solution to expensive and unreliable power and the need to reduce our environmental footprints is fully understood in the region. However, clients want to focus on their own businesses and leave power to specialists. Solar is a long-life asset that banks struggle to finance due to the need for long tenors. Specialist solar finance companies or in-house finance departments are able to fill this gap and this has accelerated the adoption of the technology for captive consumption over the last few years.
What is your outlook for the Solar sector in the region for the next 5 years?
We remain bullish on the solar sector as a whole in East Africa. We expect the SHS sector to continue to grow and expect further traction on utility-scale projects. In the C&I sector specifically, adoption of solar PV has picked up significantly over the last 3 years and we expect that to continue as more companies look to lock in considerable savings vs grid tariffs and reduce their environmental footprint.
What are your company’s plans to expand your services in the continent?
We are in the process of operationalizing in Uganda and later this year we plan to enter Tanzania and in 2023 Rwanda. We are always looking for new opportunities within the Eastern Africa region and are currently analyzing South Sudan and DRC amongst others. Our sister company, Starsight Energy, is similarly expanding in West Africa.