Our investments will be safe in Zim — Chitsenga

GLOBALLY, large car manufacturers, such as General Motors (GM), Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz, Toyota, BMW and Nissan are investing a lot in the production of electric vehicles (EVs). Over the next 15 years, investment in the sector is seen surging to US$300 billion, with EVs accounting for 15% of global sales. Zimbabwe Independent senior reporter Tinashe Kairiza (TK) spoke to 12K Energy CE Blessing Chitsenga (BC), whose firm intends to invest US$200 million to set up EVs charging stations in Zimbabwe, about the issue. Below are excerpts of the interview:

TK: 12 K Energy intends to invest in Zimbabwe. Can you give a brief background of the firm, when it was established, and where it has existing operations?

BC: The company started in Botswana in 2002 and now we are headquartered in South Africa in Sandton with a warehouse in Midrand and Newcastle in Kwazulu Natal, we also have operations in Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia.

TK: You participated in this year’s Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF). Is that your first time showcasing your brand in Zimbabwe?

BC: We started participating at the ZITF in 2017 and we have been exhibiting since then, we use the ZITF as a stepping stone into Zimbabwe. We trained our engineers in Zimbabwe and we are starting to roll out our project this year.

TK: Your firm says it wants to invest US$200 million in Zimbabwe. What is the exact nature of the project and are the funds available.

BC: 12k energy wants to set up a 200 MW manufacturing plant of solar panels in Bulawayo and Harare, as well as roll out an ambitious 6 500 electric vehicle (EVs) charging stations project. These are charge boxes that will usher in the use of electric vehicles in the country. Our funds will essentially come from the equity that our partners hold in the firm.

TK: I understand the company wants to pilot the concept of EVs in Zimbabwe. Is it a feasible project and where else is the concept being implemented with success in Africa?

BC: Evs are being rolled out in South Africa and Zambia and this is a feasible project that will usher in further investments into Zimbabwe.

TK: How much do you intend to invest in other countries that you have identified for the project particularly Zambia, Botswana and South Africa?

BC: Our company’s strategic framework is aimed at enabling a rapid and coordinated development for the region including Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe to meet the demand for identified products and services within the renewable energy value chain.

TK: In terms of gas exploration, what are your plans in that area?

BC: We also want to ensure that progress within the LPG sector provides for maximum localised benefit. The above approach is integral to the medium-term objective of enabling and unlocking the exploration of indigenous oil and gas. Interestingly, Zimbabwe’s Lupane area has been actively advancing its readiness for the establishment of gas-enabling infrastructure at 12K Energy gas exploration as one of the preferred locations identified in the country.

TK: Can you brief us on some of your operations in the region?

BC: Working with many utility corporations in Africa, 12K Energy’s mission is to expand as a company and offer this service to other countries on the continent.

12K Energy is also a wholesaler of petroleum products within Southern Africa and has already established direct access with global refineries and formed relationships with buyers and sellers of crude oil and petroleum related products. We aspire to build our own refinery in the long term.

The participation of 12K Energy at most energy exhibitions in Africa will give us the much broader platform to further increase our network in realising our vision and business aspirations. We are sponsoring the major mining and energy expo in Lusaka Zambia (Zimec).

A major objective for any power plant is ensuring that its workforce is fully equipped to operate and maintain the facility in an efficient, effective, and most of all, safe manner. By setting up the 200MW manufacturing factory in Zambia and Zimbabwe, we will pay attention to specialised skills and tasks that are required to operate and maintain the facility at industry leading levels.

TK: How do you plan to achieve this?

BC: 12K Energy will initiate a world-class training and qualification programme, ultimately a knowledge transfer programme, for all projects. The goal will be to establish all operations and maintenance personnel qualifying through a blended learning programme before the plant turnover date. Training taking place through hands on instruction, e-learning modules, and guided lectures will lead each participant through a customised curriculum tailored to his or her role at the plant

TK: I also understand you intend to set up 6 500 Electrical Vehicle (EV) charging centers in Zimbabwe over the next five years. Have the centres been identified?

BC: The areas are already being identified as we speak and we are talking to car dealers who are also excited about the project.

TK: You have expressed interest to invest in Zimbabwe, where else do you have operations across the world, and how much have you cumulatively invested in those initiatives?

BC: We are busy setting up similar investments in Zambia and Botswana as well as South Africa.

TK: Which other downstream industries would benefit from the project you are setting up in Zimbabwe and what would be the impact of the project in terms of employment creation?

BC: These are game changing ventures and the property owners as well and property developers will benefit in a number of ways including value addition to their properties and shopping malls.

TK: Under the investment deal, are you working with external partners and if so, what value do they bring into the initiative?

BC: Technical partnerships are necessary and they bring in value to the venture. ABB is a world class company we are working with, and Delta Electronics of India will bring a lot of technical training.

TK: In the short term, what are your plans in Zimbabwe?

BC: We are in Zimbabwe to stay and would like to continue supporting the national government in new developments, especially agriculture and solar projects and power generation.

TK: Zimbabwe is currently battling an intractable economic crisis, characterised by acute foreign currency shortages, do you think the country is a favourable investment destination?

BC: I believe these are teething problems of a good transition. Things will go well. We do not invest in a country but we invest in a name. The president has welcomed investment. This is a good sign.

TK: Have you secured the required licence to set up such an investment in Zimbabwe?

BC: The one stop shop and the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) thrust should help speedy things on that.

TK: Which specific areas do you intend to set up the EV charging stations?

BC: Our Park n Ride licence and model will inform our specific areas of setting up the charging stations. We are happy to be engaging the city fathers and stakeholders. There is no doubt electric scooter, bike sharing, and EVs and electric buses is the future of urban mobility. We have identified the specific shopping centres, airports and city transport hubs.

TK: What do you think about the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe and what needs to be done to improve the investment climate?

BC: Ease of doing business is a culture that has to be learnt. Just like a company’s corporate culture. You have to unlearn something’s so that you can embrace new ways of doing business. The country’s President has had good and positive changes at the one-stop-shop, so it can only get better.

TK: Generally, do you think your investment would be safe in Zimbabwe?

BC: Our investments will be safe along with other listed entities that are still doing business in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

Our Park n Ride target can only be reached with 100% battery or fuel cell electric vehicles. There is the theoretical possibility of using ICE vehicles with synthetic “eFuels”. However, the well-to-wheel efficiencies are only 10% compared to 70% for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs). Moreover, 12K Energy wants to also invest further in lithium ion battery cell production in Zimbabwe. This will be the first step to secure long-term availability of battery cells for EV fleets. We expect to have a battery demand of 300 GWh/a in 2030. With big vehicle companies aiming to have 40-50 % Plug-In electric vehicles sales by 2030 (excluding mild hybrids like 48V), it seems the oil age is dead. We are being heralded into the electric age.