Entrepreneur watch: Powering Kenya’s tea factories with wind energy

Pim de Ridder is the entrepreneur behind Izzy Projects, a business that develops and operates wind energy projects to power tea factories in Kenya. Having previously been employed by a Dutch wind energy company, De Ridder says he not only developed the skills required to run Izzy Projects today, but it also triggered an “addiction” to the project.

Pim de Ridder

De Ridder is one of this year’s finalists for the BiD Network Fast5 Challenge, which aims to identify the most sustainable companies in emerging markets and present them to ready-to-invest financiers on the international stage. How we made it in Africa’s Kate Douglas interviews De Ridder about the decision to bring Izzy Projects to Kenya.

You have developed wind energy projects in Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands. Why did you decide to bring Izzy Projects to Kenya?

Canada, Ireland and also the Netherlands are well developed and mature markets with an existing policy regime that supports the operations of renewable energy, one way or another. On the same token, these markets have their attraction, but are not necessarily the countries in the world where the need for electricity is dominant or where the wind regime is such that wind energy is among the first technologies to think about as part of the energy mix.

Once we completed our activities in Canada the question arose where the next opportunity to develop projects was. We turned our attention south rather than west. The combination of an intrinsic need for electricity, abundant wind resources and the ability to do business, was at stake. Among a couple of other markets in Africa, Kenya is one of the countries where we identified the combination of those three factors; this means strong underlying fundamentals to start the business. Wind resources in some places compete with the best in the world and – in the context of Vision 2030 – there is a continuous rising demand for electricity. To substantiate the economic growth ambition of Kenya, the country is investing hugely in the development of transmission networks. But above all it is a country which is open for business – people are friendly and helpful and there is much more sunshine than in Ireland, Canada or the Netherlands.

Why did you decide to offer wind turbines specifically to the tea factory market?

The price per unit of electricity generated by contemporary wind turbines is competitive in the context of today’s electricity markets. In Kenya, tea factories are generally located in wind rich areas. This structural factor creates opportunities for a good wind energy project and combined with the willingness and openness from the involved tea estates, makes the tea factory market in Kenya a good start for exploring self-generation with wind turbines.

What is the potential total market size for your product and service today?

In Kenya we’re at the beginning of a new era of tapping into renewable energy sources that are not yet tapped into. For example, the potential for wind energy in Kenya is huge (6GW). This in combination with the Vision 2030 strategy and a growing economy – hence a growing demand for electricity – means the country could make use of untapped sources, like using wind to fuel their economic growth in a sustainable manner.

Drawing from your business experience abroad, what are the pros and cons of doing business in a place like Kenya?

The pros and cons for the Kenyan situation are part of the same token. Although a lot is happening behind the scenes and more projects will come to Kenya in the next few years, grid connected wind projects are still a new venture. In fact, only six turbines are installed and producing electricity for the grid.

Based on my experience in other legislations, we’ll bring in examples on how wind turbine projects could be integrated in the Kenyan system and into the receiving communities. This is an absolute pro as we don’t have to fight against older, adopted and implemented policies that don’t fit the current state of the technology or aren’t beneficial to the growth of the installed capacity of renewable energy.

On the contrary, since Kenya is learning on-the-go, we sometimes find that the lack of the same policies and guidelines is frustrating concerning the development of the projects. Issues are raised and need to be solved before a project can move to the next stages; this is understandable. This can take time and can be frustrating as it is not always beneficial to the pace of the project.

Above all, an absolute pro of doing business in Kenya is, like stated earlier, the willingness [for the market] to adopt and implement projects like these. The communities are welcoming the projects and actors involved are all taking a pro-active and positive attitude towards renewable energy projects in Kenya.

Where would you like to see Izzy Projects in 10 years time?

Izzy will be a dedicated and diversified company still acting in the renewable energy sector. The diversification comes from being active in other East African countries and we anticipate diversifying our knowledge base into other renewable energy projects. Currently we’re working on partnerships in the small hydro sector, another technology with huge potential in Kenya.