In this interview at the Africa Energy Forum (aef), Tony talks to John Kelly, President of Rolls Royce Middle East and Africa, about the company’s commitment to sustainable power solutions in Africa. Here is what to expect:
- Expansion in the region
- Meeting Africa’s needs
- Sustainable fuels
TT: Hi everybody. We are here at aef. It is very busy, with lots of people. We are talking today to a very iconic company. With me is John Kelly, the President of Rolls Royce Middle East and Africa. John, please do us justice and properly introduce yourself.
JK: Thank you Tony. Rolls Royce as you said is an iconic brand with lots of history. Over one hundred years ago the company was founded by Charles Rolls Henry Royce and the focus was to provide the best engines. It started with automotive, applied it to aviation. In 1970, the company did split, so it does not do cars today. You have to talk to BWW for the cars. We have however continued to drive forwards excellent engines for aviation, land and marine. Recently, we also brought onboard another iconic company across the African market known as NTU which provides power systems solutions and because we are here in Nairobi at the Energy Forum (aef), we are very much focused on our power systems capabilities and what they provide today in terms of critical power for the continent but most importantly how they can drive us forward towards the drive to net zero which is important alongside economic development.
TT: AEF is celebrating its 25th anniversary and it is the 1st time it is coming to continental Africa. Before it was Mauritius, what does this tell you and why is it important to have it in Africa for you?
JK: Being in Africa for us is super important. We have a long history in Africa, over 100 years working in aviation with the continents airlines. We have been in Africa for a long time. Alongside is phenomenal growth and phenomenal growth opportunities. We recognise being here, understanding Africa, understanding its requirements and tailoring our solutions is really important. On of our key announcements is that we are launching our East African Headquarters based here in Nairobi. This is really important as it recognizes the importance of this region and its growth. The demographics speak for themselves. Six and a half percent growth in the next four to five years, population of 170 million and around 170 million per annum GDP. That offers a fantastic growth opportunity, and we are really privileged to provide the power solutions to enable that growth and enable it in a more carbon environmentally friendly way.
TT: That is big news that you are announcing here. Why Nairobi? Why Kenya?
JK: Again, the demographics speak for themselves. It is strategically important. One of the things that is impressive for Kenya is that they are already running 80% on renewables. That is phenomenal. It is hence a great environment to harness that capability, to harness the focus on sustainable energy and then continue to provide that growth. The market we supply our power supply units, the likes of Rail, we have recently collaborated with Kenya Rail to provide brand new power generation sets for their locomotives and for things in the region such as aviation. In East Africa and Southern Africa there are huge opportunities in things like mining of critical minerals, but we want to do that sustainably. What we do not want is to provide the critical minerals needed to help in decarbonization while creating extra carbon while we produce it, and we want to do it ethically. We are confident that our products are ethically environmentally friendly and ethically friendly.
TT: You have mentioned sustainability a few times here. So visibly, it is really important for a company, and I know you have been pushing in the area of sustainable fuel. Can you elaborate on that a little bit please?
JK: Absolutely. Sustainable fuel is one of our key topics for the forum. There are a lot of our products today like diesel generators, gas generators and similar for our aviation products, they do rely on fuel. Traditionally they have been fossil fuels like kerosene and diesel. The best way today to decarbonize those products is to run them on sustainable fuels. Some really good examples are that we have done the research, invested and done the testing on our engines to know that they are safe and reliable to run a hundred percent on sustainable fuel. For example. You can run a diesel power generator on what’s called hydro treated vegetable oil (HVL) which can be produced locally, and it is a viable alternative to traditional fuel. Not only does it run the engine efficiently but there are also additional benefits which enhance the performance of the engine. We have done the same thing with our aviation products. When you fly with the world’s most efficient engine, you can also run them on sustainable aviation fuel which offers a non-fossil fuel-based alternative. I have mentioned a few of those current sources, the likes of biomass, derived fuel, waste fuel, HVL. They are very good alternatives and very viable today. We definitely advocate their use. They come with some challenges, particularly the scale, availability and also price. We do not stop the conversation there. We are also very passionate and advocating for synthetic fuels or e-fuels, you may know them as power to liquid. The relevance to Kenya and East Africa is that it is a perfect environment to produce e-fuels. I say that because we have got abundant supply of raw materials, water for hydrogen, supplies of carbon dioxide and also supplies of renewable energy. You need a strong power source that is not a carbon generating power source. The renewables are here. We think this is a very viable environment for those synthetically derived fuels and we think it is an opportunity for Kenya as it can provide the root to fuel independence and sovereignty. Fundamentally, you can use sustainable fuels in our products today and we can all generate environmental benefits.
TT: Thank you so much for that. I can see your passion for the green agenda. As a top leader, what do you think about the nuclear way?
JK: Alongside many technologies, this is not one single technological solution. We need to open the pathways to many solutions. One of them is nuclear opportunities. To be clear, we are not talking in the traditional sense of a huge nuclear power station with lots of investment and lots of concrete required from carbon. Our Rolls Royce product is a small modular reactor. This is not brand-new technology; this is proven safe technology that we have had operating in our business for over 40 years and we now see that this is a perfect time to bring it to market within the next decade and it is complimentary to all the other sustainable fuels. It provides a significant non-carbon source of power. When we think of huge economic development, we are going to see the likes of Kenya and the continent come with a huge power demand in health care, universities, data centers, which we rely on for economic development. I do not think we get there without adding a new capability. The good thing with nuclear fuel is that it is non carbon, there is a small amount of nuclear product produced at the end which can be easily managed and treated. To answer your question directly, it is a viable compliment alongside other solutions.
TT: Two last questions for you. Do you have a special message for the youth of Africa because currently we also have the YES Summit here?
JK: We are passionate about STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Those skill sets in the youth today are pivotal to pioneer these technologies, innovate and to produce ever increasing solutions. We provide STEM awareness sessions. Our staff like to connect with youths and schools to pass on their knowledge but fundamentally to inspire the youth, give them the knowledge and skills set and access to technology that they can then innovate themselves. We have seen fantastic examples of youngsters taking STEM awareness and quickly coming up with their own solutions. They have come up with solar panels that can move with those technologies. I would direct those interested in Rolls Royce, STEM and all the things we have talked about today to visit our website: www. Rolls-royce.com, it will have all the information in there whether it is career interests or future aspirations in Rolls Royce, which is the best place to go.
TT: My last question for you. I want to finish with the big news. The opening of the office. When is it and are we invited?
JK: We will be opening our East African headquarters representative office here in Nairobi in the next coming weeks. We have a location and as soon as we are up and running and fit for purpose you absolutely have an invite. We would be glad to host you.
TT: Thank you very much John and I wish you a great time for the rest of the conference.
JK: Thank you.
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