Exclusive: John Campion, CEO of APR Energy talks to Alhassan Yushau Babal-waiz,- ANA’s North America Editor on the State of Energy Infrastructure and its Development in Africa

Mr John Campion, CEO of APR Energy/Photo: APR Energy
Question: Access to energy is critical to poverty alleviation and economic growth. What in your opinion is the solution to the chronic power shortage that plagues Africa today?

Asia 728x90

Answer: For long-term sustainable growth, Africa needs energy solutions in the form of large permanent power sources and additional distribution infrastructure that can exceed the current electrical demands and allow the local and national economies to flourish.

However, these projects can take many years and quite a bit of up-front financing to get underway, so having a rapid interim power solution that can meet the immediate power needs is also critical. This way, the economy can begin to realize the benefits of a reliable supply of electricity while the local or national utility is planning for larger and more permanent solutions.
Question: Some 48 African countries are being powered by a mere 68 gigawatts of installed generation capacity–thus less than Spain’s. What would you recommend be done to expand Africa’s power generating capacity?

Answer: Specifically, governmental bodies and regulatory groups within Africa should understand that in the short-term, the sector is not going to be built on mega projects or a massive high voltage grid that crisscrosses the continent. While the immediate need for reliable electricity in the region is enormous, this need will not be fulfilled overnight. Long-term plans that include both rapid temporary solutions and permanent sustainable power generation plants will need to be established in order to bring capacity to the regions that need it now and will need it in the future.

Question: What do you recommend as the solution to the high cost of energy production in Africa?

Answer: When considering the high cost of electricity, one must remember that the cost of not having reliable electricity is far greater in terms of economic impact on growth. Through effective long-term planning and efficient use of natural resources, a region can bring their cost of electricity down significantly, but it is imperative that this be done carefully as to not negatively impact the economic growth of the community. In this instance, interim energy sources are vital to keeping the economy growing while more sustainable energy plans are developed. Just last month the World Bank re-estimated that in Sub- Saharan Africa the cost to the economy of load-shedding is equivalent to 2.1 percent of GDP on average.
Question: Sub-Saharan Africa is blessed with vast amount of sunshine.  Do you see any hope in solar energy as another solution to help fuel industrial growth on the continent?

Answer: Solar power generation technologies certainly have their place in the future of renewable generation in Africa, but once again, there is a lot of work to be done before this can be a viable source of prime power. With the current solar technologies that are on the market today, back up generation and supplemental generation is still needed for industrial applications where high levels of reliability are required.
Question: How do you assess the future of green technology in Africa? 
Answer: As with any other region of the world, green technologies are an arena that the African power generation market should give some serious attention to. This being said, there is a natural abundance of other resources in the region that can be readily utilized, such as natural gas, to employ cost effective and less environmentally damaging solutions than traditional forms of power generation.

Question: In the midst of current global economic recession, how do you see the future of energy projects funding in Africa?

Answer: With the current state of affairs throughout the world, developed markets are beginning to withdraw financing, forcing the developing markets, especially those within Africa, to fend for themselves when it comes to this critical need. In the short term, large scale financing is not going to be made available within the developing markets, so these regions will need to turn to pre-financed solutions such as those that APR Energy provides. APR Energy’s interim power solutions can provide a reliable and efficient source of electricity to help move the economy in the right direction while funding for large, long-term projects is procured.
Question: Can you deconstruct in simple language, what APR Energy is doing in Africa and how you do it?
Answer: Currently, we have operating power plants in four African countries and we are looking into the potential to assist in the power sector of many others. Basically, when we come into a country to install a power facility, we do so with the understanding that the service we are providing is vital to the development of the local community and ultimately, the country. We install our power projects on a fast-track basis and in the process; we hire and train local community members on the skills necessary to conduct the day to day operation and maintenance to the power station. This policy of hiring and training locals not only decreases the overhead costs of the plant, but also enriches the local economy by providing employment and skills training that can be transferred to future careers in various industries.

Question: In how many countries do you have footprints and projects underway?

Answer: Globally, we have an operational or commercial footprint in approximately 16 countries with additional projects underway on a consistent basis.
Question: Any institutional challenges being faced by APR Energy in your host countries? And what are you doing to overcome them?

Answer: Because of the nature of what we do, we typically find ourselves in regions of the world that are in the process of developing into their full economic potential. These emerging markets have their own set of institutional challenges ranging from financing, transparency and regulation to security and risk mitigation. Through years of experience in working in these types of environments we have developed many methods of overcoming issues of this nature. By far, the most effective method of succeeding in challenging environments is building and maintaining positive relationships with both our customers and the communities surrounding our power projects globally. APR Energy makes it a priority to be good stewards of the communities in which we operate and is conscientious of our impact both socially and economically.
Question: Can you shed some light into APR Energy’s corporate social responsibility projects–particularly on job creation and environmental protection?

Answer: APR Energy is committed to the development of the local communities where it operates and aims to build a close relationship with the local citizens. As part of our overall initiative to build and maintain positive relationships with our stakeholders, we work to develop community projects that can provide the most impact in each of the communities that we operate. We develop these projects with the needs of the community in mind, often times through a partnership with our customer or local charitable organization, with a focus being placed on projects that provide benefits in the field of health or education.

APR Energy is also very aware of its impact on the local economy of regions where we operate, and through the process of hiring and training local workers in the skills necessary to safely and efficiently operate a power plant; we are directly impacting the development of a community.

Aside from impacting the community through philanthropic projects and skills training, we also make it a priority to involve the community as much as possible in the day to day workings of our power plants through community demonstrations of the environmental impact testing that we conduct regularly. When the community is involved in activities such as this, we have an opportunity to dispel misnomers and untrue stereotypes that often surround our field of power generation.

Question: In which way would this year’s US-Africa Infrastructure Conference impact the state of African energy infrastructure in both short and long term?

Answer: From one perspective, the US-Africa Infrastructure Conference works to get the decision makers within the African infrastructure sector thinking about long-term sustainable solutions for economic and social progress. The US-Africa Infrastructure Conference also strongly emphasizes the urgency of interim solutions to infrastructure needs, such as the temporary power solutions that APR provides. The immediate and highly visible impacts of interim power solutions can quickly provide economic boost to an economy while larger and more permanent solutions are developed.
Question: Has APR Energy any plans in partnering with the newly-emerging oil and gas economies in Africa?

Answer: APR Energy is very much interested in private partnerships within Africa, such as those within the local oil and gas industries. The natural gas sector within Africa provides outstanding potential for various industries and applications, including rapidly deployed power generation projects. APR Energy’s modularized gas turbines represent a state of the art technology that can utilize the natural resources that Africa already holds, to benefit the region in a way that it desperately needs.

About Mr Campion
From 1991 to 1999, Mr. Campion served as the Chief Executive Officer of Showpower Inc., a portable generator company based in California that primarily served the entertainment industry. In December 1999, Showpower was acquired by GE Energy Rentals. After GE Energy Rental’s acquisition of Showpower, Mr. Campion stayed on until towards the end of 2001 as GE Energy Rentals’ Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing. In early 2002, Mr. Campion was hired to serve as the President of Alstom Power Rentals. Alstom Power Rentals was a subsidiary of Alstom Power Inc., a Paris-based company focused on energy and transportation infrastructure. In March 2004, Alstom Power Rentals’ ownership was transferred to APR LLC, a company owned and operated by John Campion and Laurence Anderson. Mr. Campion has served as the CEO of the APR Group since 2004.