Two out of three people in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity, stunting economic growth and trapping millions in poverty.
Power Africa, an ambitious public-private partnership led by Andrew Herscowitz of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has worked with more than 20 African governments, 140 private sector companies, 12 federal agencies and a host of international organizations to bring electricity to more than 50 million people.
Starting from scratch in 2013, Herscowitz and the Power Africa team built a solid foundation for this highly ambitious foreign policy initiative designed to advance U.S. national security interests while fostering economic development and stability in Africa.
To date, Herscowitz and his team of 56 people in the U.S. and South Africa have advanced 117 electric power projects worth more than $14 billion that will produce 9,500 megawatts of electricity. The U.S. government has disbursed about $500 million to help finance this effort, but Power Africa also has stimulated the export of an equal amount in U.S. goods and services, and helped secure thousands of jobs at American companies.
“Andy brought the vision and boundless energy to this initiative,” said Cheryl L. Anderson, the deputy assistant administrator of USAID’s Africa Bureau.
“He has been responsible for making sure the federal agencies, as well as other donors, work together and bring their best contributions to the effort. He engages with private-sector companies, finance people and African government leaders,” said Anderson. “He has a real knack for identifying the right people and bringing them on board.”
In the process, Herscowitz and his team helped large companies like GE and small U.S. firms overcome political, administrative and legal barriers with African governments to win contracts for power generation. He has facilitated financial arrangements with commercial banks, private equity firms and multilateral organizations to back these projects, and enlisted assistance from the departments of State, Energy and Commerce, as well as federal organizations such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
“Andy understands the private sector very well. He also has the ability to navigate through the U.S. government and deal with multiple agencies,” said Gayle Smith, a former USAID administrator. “He has mastered all the details and is persistent while also being a diplomat.”
Karl Fickenscher, a deputy assistant USAID administrator who served as top aide to Herscowitz for several years, said the team had to convince a wide array of African leaders to define the rules of engagement when they were vague or nonexistent. He said Herscowitz and the team created economic certainty for investors and companies by deploying on-the-ground advisors to help advance deals with African governments.
“Andy is a man of continual energy, great vision and a lot of ideas,” Fickenscher said. “Power Africa would not be where it is today without Andy’s leadership and the talented team he recruited.”
Power Africa projects have included rehabilitation of a hydroelectric power plant in Liberia; development of solar generation in Zambia; commissioning of a new power plant in Senegal; extension of the power grid to rural villages in Ghana; several small hydropower projects in Rwanda; and the first ever privately funded geothermal project in Ethiopia.
Power Africa also is helping electric companies become more efficient. In Nigeria, where repeated breakdowns in distribution and transmission systems created huge challenges, Power Africa put teams into four companies to help improve management practices and reduce outages and monetary losses. This effort helped the companies generate $83 million in new revenues that they can invest in system upgrades.
About 60 percent of electricity generated by Power Africa projects use natural gas, although many of the projects rely on off-grid renewable energy sources such as solar power that require less upfront capital investment and can deliver energy more quickly.
Herscowitz said he is “proud that the U.S. government has helped bring electricity to more than 50 million people in Africa, while creating hundreds of millions of dollars in export opportunities for U.S. companies.” Even with this success, “I still wake up in the middle of the night thinking how could we do better,” he said.