Africa’s Energy Transition

Africa is a country full of opportunity. Benjamin Memmi, CEO at Jovena, discusses the importance of connecting Africa to energy  

Writer: Sean Galea-Pace  |  Project Manager: Ben Weaver

“It is more important than ever before to rethink our ways of consuming.”

Those are the words of Benjamin Memmi, CEO at Jovena.

The world is changing. In truth, it always has been. But for Africa, the continent is still largely without access to electricity, with an alarming 50 percent lacking energy across the region. 

Solving this challenge is difficult, but something that Memmi and Jovena, within its parent organisation, Axian Group, is ready to meet head-on. 

“We are now witnessing an ‘Energy New Deal’,” he discusses. “The energy transition is a real challenge today in Africa, we will have to move towards renewable energies while working on a production model that reduces carbon emissions in order to achieve a neutral carbon balance. 

“At Jovena and more broadly within the Axian Group and the Energy Cluster that I represent, we believe that Africa’s energy future will be of utmost relevance to the world. 

We are working to provide broader access to clean and affordable energy and to contribute to the achievement economic and energy goals for the future of our continent.”

Jovena is the leading Malagasy firm in the petroleum products distribution. It ensures the fuel supply of the population, the industry and Jirama, the National Company of energy production. Jovena recently reached the threshold of 100 service stations and through this geographical coverage, Jovena participates in the opening of isolated areas by strengthening the network throughout Madagascar which is an integral part of their social impact. Jovena explores creative and innovative ways to ring more reliable, sustainable and affordable access to energy to the greatest number. Thanks to Jovena, 123 million kilograms of CO2 were avoided.

“Today, Jovena has changed and is driven to pivot quickly,” explains Memmi. “Jobs will shift considerably over 15 years and as such, it’s necessary to initiate the implementation of new activities at Jovena and provide new services.”

This new Jovena isn’t just the leading petroleum products distributor in Madagascar but also aspires to gradually reduce its carbon footprint. The solarisation of the network is a first step in being energy efficient on its stations. Jovena will also develop services for its customers by offering, for example, electric urban mobility. It also remains attentive to research on new fuels, whether synthetic, bio or new ones like hydrogen.

Further, Jovena and the Axian energy pole are involved in thermal power plant hybridisation projects aimed at decreasing the cost of the energy produced and reducing the carbon footprint of these plants. It is focusing on solar and hydraulic investments by taking part in partnerships and joint ventures like CHGV, GES or Green Yellow Madagascar. In total, there are 281 staff members who provide significant meaning to the Axian Group’s vision for the development of Madagascar and the continent. 
Having begun his career auditing in KPNG following the completion of his studies at the École Supérieur de Commerce de Paris, before joining JP Morgan Investment Bank. Before joining the Axian Group in 2001 as Sales Manager with the launch of Jovena, Memmi was an entrepreneur. In 2004, he was appointed General Manager of this entity following the successful completion of various projects. 

“Originally, the energy sector, in particular the oil and gas industry, wasn’t my domain of expertise, but Hassanein Hiridjee, who I had met during my studies, approached me and made me part of the team,” explains Memmi. “I immediately went for it, as I was already aware at that time of the importance of the energy issue in Africa and of Madagascar’s potential in this area. This year, I became the Managing Director of Let’s Renew Energy, the energy division of the Axian Group. We envisioned the development of the group’s energy activities as part of the transition to renewable energy and social impact, both in Madagascar and on the African continent.”

When it comes to influential projects, Memmi points to one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. “This one is particularly close to my heart and illustrates the shift in direction that Jovena has taken and continues to pursue,” he explains. “I’m proud to say that we have made history in the energy landscape in Madagascar by being a pioneer. 

“With our partner Green Yellow, we have commissioned the largest solar power plant in the Indian Ocean with a capacity of 20 megawatts (MW), which is soon to be increased to 40MW. This project is a perfect example of our desire to light up every home throughout Madagascar by investing in the long-term with strategic partners of great impact. By doing so, we are strengthening Madagascar’s infrastructure and making a significant contribution to reducing the cost of energy.”

And Jovena’s drive is showing no signs of slowing. The company’s projects are all part of a new model of shared growth made possible by significant investments in research and development (R&D) in order to anticipate the progressive reduction of carbon emissions by offering services to customers within the energy transition programme.

“It is important to work towards this African New Energy Deal and this requires us to remain attentive to technological developments,” confirms Memmi. “We can see this in Europe where there is increasing talk of alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen for instance. In order to carry out these projects, innovation is vital. We are also fortunate to be part of a group in which we can draw on many cross-over strategies to integrate all the technologies available within the Axian Group and create bridges with, for example, Pay As You Go systems, mobile money, etc.”
Inside Jovena’s Major Projects
Jovena is committed to continuing to invest in the energy transition and has outlined this commitment for a number of years. “Recently, we have chosen to be even more daring and have taken part in two major and unprecedented infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean,” adds Memmi.

Indeed, the Volobe hydroelectric dam project with CGHV is one of the most powerful green hydraulic production sites in the country with a power of 120MW an estimated production capacity of 750 GWh per year.

“By 2022, it will fully replace diesel or heavy fuel oil power plants and will supply more than two million people in the Toamasina region and on the Antananarivo interconnected network,” discusses Memmi. “This project will contribute to considerably reducing the current production costs of Jirama and will significantly increase the country’s share of renewable energy production. We have surrounded ourselves with experienced and recognised partners for this project namely: COLAS and SN Power, specialised in the construction and operation of hydroelectric plants, as well as the Africa 50 investment fund.”

The second major project revolves around the hybridisation of the company’s thermal power plants and the proposal to its commercial customers in order to switch to solar energy autonomous production consumption. 

“The hybridisation consists of including up to 40 percent of solar energy in the current production which is entirely thermal,” explains Memmi. “This will allow us to meet a double objective: the first one, through a 40 percent solar/battery-based feed-in percentage, we will reduce the use of fossil fuels in the same proportions; the second one will be to propose a more affordable energy by reducing the dependence on fuel costs. The expected decrease is about 35 percent.”

Key Partnerships
Jovena’s projects are carried out in partnership with Green Yellow, its partner in Madagascar, but also with their own company EDM. Green Energy Solutions (GES), its joint venture with Green Yellow, has a mission statement of development, building, financing and operation of solar and hybrid power plants on behalf of Jirama as well as to implement energy efficiency projects for private sector clients, large industrial and commercial consumers. 

Since 2019, GES has put into service hybrid solar/thermal power plants in Vohémar, Sambava, Antalaha, and Mroondave. These plants, which represent a total investment of $35 million, will allow GES to supply electricity to all of these cities for a period of 20 years with solar energy yields of over 40 percent.

To Jovena, people are at the heart of its strategy. Memmi strives to have a positive influence on the development and morale of all his staff. 

“We cannot claim to make a positive impact on the continent without devoting special attention to the people who share our goals,” he stresses. “Jovena, as a subsidiary of the Axian Group, is concerned about the well-being and personal development of each and everyone. We have developed an ambitious human resources policy and position ourselves as a responsible employer who guarantees the respect of the rights of its staff. 

“We participate in the United Nations Global Compact initiative, as does the Axian Group, which is committed to human and labor rights by creating a fulfilling work environment, a fair and transparent human resources policy, and by continually investing in the training and development of the men and women who make the group’s success possible. This commitment is illustrated by a genuine employer brand strategy to attract African and international expertise.”
Driving Sustainability
Every year, Jovena aims to deliver a more comprehensive CSR policy that is more advanced, and as a result of its business line, the company is committed to reducing negative impacts and making the operations of the firm more sustainable.

“Our CSR policy has two main focuses: actively acting to reduce the carbon footprint of our activities and committing ourselves to the community,” explains Memmi. “To illustrate this first objective, I would like to raise the solarisation project of our fuel stations. Currently, 15 percent of our fuel stations run exclusively on solar energy and within five years, 100 percent of our fuel stations will be fully solarised. Our urban mobility projects also include the conversion of the entire Jovena fleet to electric two-wheelers in the next two years. This commitment reflects the entire Group’s ambition to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030.”

However, Jovena doesn’t solely act in the energy sector, and has also participated for several years in community development, which is also part of sustainability efforts. 

“We assist the Malagasy people on a daily basis while supporting the activities of various associations that provide assistance to the disadvantaged people,” adds Memmi. “We are also engaged in meaningful partnerships with the public sector through our contribution to the financing of the construction of bus stations, namely: Antananarivo, Ambatondrazaka, Antsiranana and Mahajanga. In order to support young people and their education, which is key for a successful future in the country we invest in, we have entered into partnerships with the leading schools and higher education institutes.”

Looking ahead, Jovena has outlined its intention to scale even further. Recently, the company launched an initiative to improve access to basic health and hygiene services in partnership with the Axian Foundation, the Group’s foundation in charge of pooling the philanthropic projects of all entities. 

“The programme, referred to as Jovena MIAHY, involves the rehabilitation and equipping of the Gastroenterology Department of the HJRB (Joseph Raseta Befelatanana University Hospital) and the setting up of a mobile clinic specialised in women’s and children’s health,” Memmi sums up. “This mobile clinic provides preventive and curative care for women and newborns allowing about 850 free consultations per month.”