With the industrial and retail sectors on the African continent growing at an exponential rate, the demand for large-scale refrigeration infrastructure is higher than ever. This has led to a steady increase in service providers looking towards emerging economic hubs in countries like Kenya and Ghana for opportunities.
However, in spite of the growing opportunities, Africa still presents a few significant challenges for the refrigeration industry. State-of-the-art refrigeration is only able to run at optimal levels if it is actively maintained and monitored, which means the first challenge is to ensure that skilled technicians are within reach of the client.
This is why establishing a presence in any given region is crucial if one plans on building any long-term relationships with a client. A case in point is the Katima Mulilo, situated in Namibia’s Zambezi region, where EP Refrigeration recently established the first outsourced refrigeration solution for a major retailer operating within the region.
The project was for the revamp of a large store operated by a large South African retail chain, and for that we designed a mini-multiplex solution that was highly energy efficient. With energy tariffs in the region standing at around 50% to 80% higher than South African tariffs, efficiency was one of the biggest drivers of the system, as well as the outsource model, which guarantees the lowest possible life cycle cost and reliability.
At the same time, we also realised that the system needed to be robust because of the unavoidable fact that our response times in terms of emergency maintenance would be much longer than if the project were in South Africa.
We therefore had to build more diversity than normal into the system, in order to limit the impact of any major maintenance issues. This means that the client can still maintain close to normal operation even if a portion of the plant goes offline.
With that said, it is still not possible to service a large-scale project such as this from outside the country. As such, EP Refrigeration runs its operation and maintenance of this project from the Energy Partners office in Windhoek.
The success of this project has also led to EP Refrigeration securing another contract in the Oshana region in the north of Namibia with the same client.
The above is an example of how operating in Africa can be done right, and we are currently looking at finding new projects and replicating that model in other emerging regions. Kenya is one of the regions that stands out for us, because of the size and growth of its economy at present. Having clients that know us either by reputation or through past partnerships opens the doors of business and make the entry easier.
In our case, our first opportunity came through a client that we had previously partnered with in South Africa. It is also advantageous that many of the companies setting up operations in Kenya are South African, and prefer to work with other South African service providers.
While we do not have an office in Kenya yet – which necessitates much more time and planning when conducting maintenance and operations – we are certainly looking at ways of putting teams in the region in order to increase the project’s efficiency.
Lastly, there is Malawi, where we also recently completed a few projects. As is the case with Kenya, we do not yet have teams on the ground.
Manufacturing is actually not a problem as all our units are manufactured in our South African factories, pre-assembled and tested before packing in shipping containers to be deployed on site. In many cases the container can also double as a plant room, which means that the completed refrigeration system arrives on site, and just needs to be connected to the store or factory before starting to operate. The packing lists have to be well planned, because there are no guarantees that any of the components – even screws – can be sourced locally.
The biggest advantage of rolling out refrigeration projects in the rest of Africa, is that it also opens a door for the rest of the Energy Partners’ divisions. Most customers who want a refrigeration system, also show an interest in solar generation or water supply, which is why it is extremely beneficial to be part of a group that can provide these core services as well.
Africa has some of the fastest growing economies on the planet at the moment, and getting a foot on the ground in any of these regions can lead to a chain of opportunities for one’s business.