Marcel Steinberg, CEO of Clean Energy Africa says the company has proven capacity to successfully execute a range of Green projects.
Please share some background on the establishment of Clean Energy Africa (CEA) and outline your core services.
CEA started as a developer of energy projects. Over the years of developing projects, we have become very good at seeing the opportunity to add value to underutilised resources and, through applying applicable technology, unlocking value. Today, we also invest in and aim to own the projects we develop. We truly believe in investing in or developing business in areas where there is a need to unlock value that can make the world a better place. In everything we do, we think about the planet, people and profit. If it’s not profitable, it is not sustainable.
What are the various companies in the group and how do they collaborate?
We started with a waste-to-energy business and added a refrigeration business. At first glance, these don’t look connected at all, but one of our key outputs from our plant is CO2, which is what we use in our refrigeration business as a natural refrigerant. In everything we do, we look for these types of synergies. Over the years, our refrigeration business has grown into an energy-efficiency platform, helping our clients with everything from heating and cooling to lights, software, heat pumps, solar panels and everything you can think of, in order to reduce energy requirements. We even have a vertical farming business that will change the way we produce and transport food in the future.
On the production side of our business, we focus on energy production. Here, we have a couple of wind farm developments, biomass-to-energy plants and waste-to-energy.
Could you name some of the challenges that the company has experienced to date?
Funding energy projects is always a challenge as a small player. Over time, we have built enough balance sheet to fund our developments ourselves, but it’s hard to get started as it takes time and money. The regulatory environment is also a minefield. We have teams of people just dealing with this on a daily basis.
What are some of CEAs recent successes?
This July past, the Minister of Energy launched our trading platform in Nelson Mandela Bay. Nelson Mandela Bay, thanks to us, is the first metro to trade green power over a prepaid platform–a world first!
In August this year, we started construction on South Africa’s first waste-to-energy facility in Cape Town–it will change the landscape as far as waste management and energy recovery from underutilised resources are concerned.
We are also busy with some other very cool things you will read about later this year.
Please share some more detail on the recent Green Power launch.
The PowerX platform, launched in Nelson Mandela Bay, is making use of a licence issued by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) to trade clean and affordable energy. The project has kicked off in the informal settlements of the metro, as the municipality has been facing major energy challenges. The platform will stimulate the production and consumption of renewable and clean power in Southern Africa by acting as a conduit between electricity buyers and sellers.
How did CEA come to be involved in developing the Green waste-to-energy facility in Cape Town, and what will some of the most notable features of the facility be?
It’s been something I have been involved in for six years now. These projects take time and if you do not persevere, nothing can be achieved. I guess that’s the first notable thing, we made it happen.
This facility will define how responsible corporates will dispose of waste in the future. It’s truly a landfill alternative and has the goal of being Africa’s first zero-waste-to-landfill facility. It diverts 500 tonnes a day of municipal waste from landfill and converts it into fertiliser, CNG (compressed natural gas) and food grade CO2.
What percentage of your income is derived from local work and what percentage of income is from work in other African countries?
Although we see a huge interest in what we do in other African countries, we derive at least 80% of our revenue in our home country of South Africa. As our clients expand into Africa we follow them, and we have been very active in Nigeria, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. These projects are, however, still small compared with our local base.
How have you managed to identify and develop the non-South African business opportunities?
Trust and time–I’ve been in the energy space for over a decade. People know me, we have built a good reputation and have proven our ability to execute. This is priceless. There are lots of talkers in our industry, but few with a real execution track record.
There has been growing awareness of renewable forms of energy in South Africa following the introduction of the REIPPP programme but have you seen a change in the attitudes of people and companies with regard to alternative forms of energy or greener practices?
Even over 10 years ago, we saw corporate South Africa wanting to be Green, but not at a premium level. I think today that is possible, for the first time we can see how being Green is actually cheaper and is saving our clients money in the long run.
What are some of the trends or recent developments you are seeing in the alternative energy sector?
- Smart grids and smart metres are redefining how power will be distributed and consumed; we are at the forefront of this trend and are very excited about it.
- Base-load renewables are in demand, biomass, biogas, et cetera.
- Energy storage is the “unicorn” everyone is searching for, as this will make renewables even more attractive.
Have you benefitted from having been mentored during your business and personal life and have you been in a position to mentor younger people?
Absolutely, I am successful because of all the great men that have helped me and invested in me over the years. They are still in my life today and I, in return, help and assist others who are looking to get into the space. We cannot succeed alone, to be truly successful is not about how much money we make, but how many people we help along the way.
CEA’s greatest asset is our foundation. Other companies give when they have money, we have made giving part of our core value system and started giving when we had little. Today, we fund schools, invest in bursaries and do what we can to make the world a better place.
How would you describe your leadership style, and what have been the greatest leadership lessons you have learned?
I keep learning every day, but I guess I would say to stay humble. Our success is not from us, give it back to God and glorify His name. I don’t think I’m a particularly good leader. I didn’t set out to run a company; I have simply been willing to do what needs to be done.
At CEA, I have done my best to foster a culture of accountability and passion. Without passion, nothing can ever be achieved. We have very flexible work arrangements that are outcomes-focussed, and we do team events to build team spirit. As the company gets bigger, this becomes more difficult to maintain, but as a wise business guru once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.