Buck­ing the trend, mak­ing a suc­cess

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - Tsidi Bishop

FUMANI Mthembi, who runs a re­new­able en­ergy pro­duc­ing com­pany, has no re­grets about leav­ing her se­cure job in the mid­dle of an eco­nomic re­ces­sion to start her own busi­ness in 2009.

Mthembi and four of her friends, barely in their thir­ties at the time, left the bank­ing in­dus­try to start a de­vel­op­ment project to help less priv­i­leged youth in the coun­try. How­ever, they were forced to change their plans when they strug­gled to raise funds. They opted for re­new­able en­ergy.

Mthembi, the only woman among the five founders (the oth­ers be­ing Gqi Raoleka, Obak­eng Moloabi, Boipelo Moloabi and Thapelo Mot­lo­geloa), said that while they were bat­tling to keep their dreams alive with the youth project, an­other op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self, which led to the cre­ation in 2009 of the Pele En­ergy Group, based in Sand­ton.

South Africa’s En­ergy Depart­ment was search­ing for in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers for re­new­able en­ergy. Com­pa­nies had to meet a few cri­te­ria to be con­sid­ered. First, they were re­quired to have the fi­nan­cial mus­cle and ex­per­tise to run a busi­ness and also have a solid so­cial de­vel­op­ment strat­egy for com­mu­ni­ties where they would be con­struct­ing en­ergy plants.

Of im­por­tance also were the com­pany’s plans to raise cap­i­tal and its tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise in pro­duc­ing en­ergy. The depart­ment was also look­ing for tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise and hence worked with in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers that had that ex­per­tise.

Op­por­tu­nity

“This was ac­tu­ally rep­re­sent­ing an op­por­tu­nity for us, be­cause we had skill sets that we gained from our days in the bank­ing sec­tor that would en­able us to make sense of what was re­quired by the En­ergy Depart­ment,” said Mthembi.

“So it was clear that, as some­one with an eco­nomics and de­vel­op­ment back­ground and as an econ­o­mist, I could plug in,” said Mthembi. She was just 25 at the time, with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in eco­nomics and pol­i­tics and a mas­ter’s in pol­i­tics and de­vel­op­ment from the Univer­sity of Sus­sex in the UK.

Pele En­ergy Group’s first break came in Novem­ber 2011, when it suc­cess­fully bid to be­come one of the in­de­pen­dent power pro­duc­ers. One of its first big projects was a power plant pro­duc­ing 36MW of so­lar CPV (con­cen­tra­tor pho­to­voltaics) in the Eastern Cape Prov­ince. How­ever, the com­pany’s good for­tune was short lived. In 2012 all its bids failed, so the com­pany gen­er­ated in­come through con­sult­ing.

This ar­ti­cle was pro­vided by Africa Re­newal. Go to www.un.org/ africare­newal

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