Breaking barriers: Leadership in emerging markets

Meet the start-ups that are disrupting, inspiring and evolving the energy sector.

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From start-ups to emerging markets, the barriers to entry are often more challenging to break through in comparison to those already developed and established. The positive and dynamic approaches taken to overcome these barriers are inspiring and lead to the birth of new ideas and innovation – crucial to thriving in this fast-changing sector. Be inspired by snapshots from leaders and projects that are leading the way in emerging markets or the start-up sector and that are featured in The Global Power & Energy Elites 2021 publication.

JÜRGEN MAYERHOFER
Co-Founder and Chief Executive | Enspire | Germany

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Professionally, founding enspired was definitely the biggest risk I’ve ever taken. Mainly financially, because my co-founder and I basically earn nothing to finance the initial growth. We actually joke that whenever we earn less than before, we have more fun doing the job. I am now at the bottom line, earning nothing and loving my job. But financially this is a weird situation for my age, having family responsibilities but receiving zero money in my bank account every month. I discussed this with my wife, and we agree with this approach and priorities for now. But it won’t last for years.

On an emotional level, after founding this company, I’ve convinced a lot of other people to join, and if the idea doesn’t work out, they will lose their job. We are very successful now, but when I asked them earlier this year, we didn’t know if we would receive all planned deep-tech grants and first clients to finance the ramp-up phase. Since I know a lot of these people well personally, asking them to join also meant I was potentially risking the relationship if we should fail.

What tips do you have for keeping a team motivated?

Always be transparent about the purpose of the strategy and how to execute it in the company. People have to know why they get up in the morning and how their work contributes to the overall goal. If you ask my colleagues, they all know what the plan is for next year and why we do certain things. If your employees know what their work is good for and what role they play, it will help to keep them motivated. It’s also crucial to trust your colleagues and to show appreciation. A simple ‘Thank you’ can be enough, but it is essential to show them that you see what they are contributing.

What role do you see you and your team playing in the economic recovery of the 2020 global pandemic?

As an energy start-up, we have created 11 jobs during the pandemic. Although minuscule in comparison to the world, given the current economic climate, having the ability to recruit high-value jobs for senior software developers and data scientists and develop a young company is significant. On top of that, we have a strong purpose in supporting the energy transition. Keeping the size of the company in mind, I think we have already made quite some contribution.

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AES: Making the most of Hawaii’s sun

The Lawai Solar project on Kauai island in Hawaii is playing a key role in transitioning the Pacific Island territory away from fossil fuels and towards an all renewable future.

Hawaii, like islands all around the world, traditionally relied on costly imported hydrocarbon fuels and coal for its energy requirements. With the goal to reduce its dependence on such fossil fuels for both environmental and economic reasons, Hawaii became the first US state back in 2015 to commit to a 100% renewable goal to be achieved by 2045. Solar photovoltaic (PV) plants are key in this transition, but as with other weather-dependent renewables such as wind, they bring new demands in terms of grid stability. Solar also exacerbates the need for so-called ‘peaker plants’, i.e. electricity generation that can be brought online at short notice to handle spikes in demand for power on the grid.

The Lawai Solar project is one of the more recent solar initiatives to come online in Hawaii. AES Corporation, the owner, got the go ahead with the approval of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission in July 2017 for a 25-year power purchase agreement with the island’s utility, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC). Advised by a crosspractice team of lawyers from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP led by global project finance partners Gregory Lavigne and Matthew Nesburn, AES spent well over two years planning the facility, which was brought into service in April 2019. Lavigne reflected that the financings were a real milestone for AES, Hawaii and the renewable energy sector overall, as it proved that solar and storage technologies could fully replace conventional power solutions and were able to be financed by the project finance and tax equity marketplaces.

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SALMA OKONKWO
Founder | Blue Power Energy | Ghana

What are your greatest strengths?

My resilience, determination, and ability to manoeuvre through uncertainty are my greatest strengths. I built several companies as a woman and without these strengths it would have been impossible to achieve this. If you give up the first time you receive an objection you will never progress.

It is also important to nurture your internal drive and motivation to get you through all those objections that you encounter along the way. Having been on senior management and C-level, I have learned a lot from my team and other stakeholders over the years through the way they manage others, strategising and including them, helping to shape who I am today.

Which of your leadership skills was the most difficult to develop?

Balancing being a leader with being a friendly peer has been a challenge to get right. When this business first started, we were a small team and within three years we grew from less than $20,000 annual revenue to $40 million. As a result, we had to put structures in place and recruit middle, senior and C-level managers to build a robust organisation. From the start, it was challenging for me to find the right balance between being an executive and a friendly peer but through the learning curves, teamwork and a lot of communication, I believe I have developed this skill over time.

What industry challenge keeps you awake at night?

Uncertain policies, accessing funding and expanding energy access are three primary challenges.

When it comes to policy, African markets are still developing policies to encourage renewable energy. These policies can change in a matter of months, which makes planning difficult.

Funding is another key challenge. African energy companies are at a disadvantage since they cannot access funding with interest rates comparable to those our counterparts in developed markets get. Funding that recognises the benefits of hybrid solutions of gas and renewables is also hard to come by. Hybrid solutions would lower energy prices across the board and also drive manufacturing, which increases the value of raw materials procured locally.

Lastly, expanding energy access is a fundamental challenge. I often think of the women-owned small businesses in rural Ghana that need energy to keep a refrigerator open so that they can sell cold goods. Our ability to get these women electricity determines their economic outlook.

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EU-SysFlex Project: Going real time with grid management

The EU-SysFlex Project, an EU funded Horizon 2020 initiative, consists of eight European demonstration projects addressing the provision of flexibility between different voltage levels. New algorithms and tools developed in the German demonstrator of the EU-SysFlex Project have opened the way for real time coordination of flexibility to manage intermittent renewable energy resources on the grid.

The key players in the development of the algorithms are the Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Economics and Energy System Technology (IEE), and the University of Kassel (e2n).

The algorithms developed will coordinate the utilisation of active and reactive power flexibility, which can be provided to the distribution system operator (DSO), and from the DSO to the transmission system operator (TSO). Such coordination and optimisation between the DSO and TSO is crucial for the security and cost-effective operation of a grid with a high penetration of renewable energy resources.

In Germany, the share of renewable energy in total electrical consumption is nearing 50%, and since 2017 has been around 100% in the project demonstration region, part of the supply area of MITNETZ STROM, the local DSO. The upshot of this has been the implementation of substantial re-dispatch measures to avoid overloading and voltage violations on the transmission and distribution grids. However, the re-dispatch potential in the transmission grid is limited due to the decreasing capacity of conventional power plants.

The re-dispatch potential can be increased by utilising renewable energy resources in the distribution grid. To avoid TSOs adopting congestion solutions that conflict with those put in place by the DSOs, a coordination mechanism is needed.

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Now in its seventh year, the annual Global Power & Energy Elites publication and digital platform features those leaders and projects setting the benchmarks, giving readers insights into their planning and execution, as well as the challenges and opportunities.

The 2022 nominations are open, introducing a brand new category, Resilience – Projects, demonstrating the use/inclusion/adaption of energy systems and applications as a resiliency tool to provide essential services such as education, healthcare, food and water.

visit: global-energy-elites.com
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