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Empowering West Africa

Empowering West Africa

Guest blog post by Harold “Hal” Pontez, President and CEO of HPI , and participant in the Commerce Department's West Africa Energy Business Development Mission

By no stretch of the imagination, I am a very lucky man. Aside from sharing a great life with my wife and daughter, I’ve had the great pleasure of waking up each day for 30 years excited to take on new challenges at a job that I love. 

Over the course of those years, some may say I’ve developed a bit of a routine: 

5:00 am – Turn on the lights (waking up the dogs), get dressed and head to the gym for a morning workout session. (Hopefully my iPod is charged or it’s going to be a brutal morning!). 

6:30 am – Brew a cup of coffee and power up the laptop to catch up on the morning headlines and email.

7:00 am – Breakfast- usually I pop a bagel in the toaster (the Lone Star State has perfected the art of creating larger bagels, but they’re still nothing like the ones in my home state of New York!).

While the intricacies of my mornings may be a snooze fest to some, there is one essential component that all of these tasks would be impossible without- power. 

It is estimated that over 600 million people (that’s two-thirds of the population) in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to electricity. While countries in the region continue to see rapid commercial development, they have been plagued with electricity and gas shortages, directly impacting businesses, national GDP and quality of life throughout the country since 2009. Reliable power generation is essential to the development of countries like Ghana, where the country is expected to serve as an example for stability, and steady and diversified economic growth. 

In 2012, my company, HPI, had the opportunity to address part of this challenge head on when we were contracted to build a 132 MW power plant in Takoradi, a city in the western part of Ghana. Prior to our involvement, a shutdown of a local power plant due to ruptured pipelines forced the closure of manufacturing and mining businesses in the area, negatively impacting Ghanian GDP.  To address the issue, we designed a modular power plant that provided flexibility when shortages in electric power or gas occur. The design also allowed for easier and quicker onsite assembly and commissioning, which reduced cost and construction lead time. 

Today, the plant is projected to help meet part of the demand in the region and provides national grid back up for shortfalls, especially among seasonally low hydroelectric power. It has been so impactful, that I’m proud to say that we recently began the construction of another thermal power plant in the area that will add an additional 132 MW of electricity to the national grid once completed. 

The first few days of the trade mission have shown tremendous promise, and have put me back in front of some familiar faces as HPI continues to evaluate additional opportunities to bring our expertise to the region. Our briefings with Lee Zak of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, Gene Cretz, as well as the Ghanian government, who has demonstrated its commitment to expanding its power production capacity, has been especially insightful.

Our meetings also remind me that while we have seen some progress, there is still much work to be done. Through the collective efforts of all who have been afforded the opportunity to be a part of the delegation of this mission, I am confident that for the some 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa access to electricity will soon be just a part of the everyday routine.

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