ON ROLE OF MENA IN EBRD’S PORTFOLIO

“Semed [the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean region] has played a really important role for the EBRD as a whole, showcasing that our private-sector focused business model enabled by a public mandate can work in a new region. So over the last seven years, not only in terms of volume but also in terms of impact, adding these new countries has really boosted the EBRD’s overall portfolio and proven that we can work outside our legacy region.”

ON INCREASING 2020-2030 INVESTMENT

“We have seen year on year growth essentially since we started in 2012 – the number of projects, the value of these investments, and also the addition of new countries into the EBRD family, last year Lebanon, and the West Bank and Gaza before that. We have also seen Egypt investment grow substantially in 2017 and 2018. And there will be more countries coming. We have not plateaued yet.”

ON EXPANDING INTO IRAQ AND ALGERIA

“Our region encompasses the entire southern and eastern Mediterranean shoreline. So by that definition Algeria, Libya and Syria. Given the political situation, Libya and Syria would be more in the medium term, but in Algeria, if their government is interested, that could be somewhere where our business model could be rolled out quite quickly. And there is also Iraq which approached us for membership, which would be an even wider definition of ‘Semed’, including countries that don’t technically have a [Mediterranean] shoreline but are very integrated with current countries – in this instance Iraq with Jordan.

ON NEW RENEWABLES PROJECTS

“Egypt is still going through another round and Tunisia just tendered a number of renewables projects that achieved an incredibly low price, so Tunisia and certainly Egypt [are in line for more EBRD renewables funding]. Jordan is looking at smaller scale, private projects as is the West Bank and Gaza. Lebanon has looked at renewables and we have done a lot of work to support the regulatory environment around renewables but with the current situation [see p10] anything will take time.

I should also mention, we are now focusing on the question of whether the broader system is ready to take on more renewables. So in Jordan there has been a major rise in energy production via renewables, up to over 20% [of overall power generation], and with that the grid really needs upgrading. There needs to be automated dispatch centers, more investment in grid stability infrastructure, the transmission and distribution companies, and in terms of regional connectivity a better utilization of peak hours between Iraq and Jordan, or Egypt and Jordan. So the next phase involves EBRD expanding its support for these systems and networks that are distributing and transmitting renewable energy.”

ON WORKING WITH JORDAN’S NEPCO

“We’ve engaged quite extensively with Nepco both in terms of financial stability through restructuring some of their debt, but also in terms of corporate reform and governance, the tendering process, etc. It is all part of the financing package. We want to make Nepco a more financially and operationally efficient company, and that is critical for taking on more renewables going forward.

Jordan is a lesson here: as much as they wanted to diversify, including the gas from abroad, they have also embarked on oil shale. So in 2020 a lot of supply will come online. That is making the ministry pause a little bit and try to figure out what is the most efficient and cost-effective energy mix, given all the contracts they have already signed with various generators and providers of electricity. We are trying to be as helpful as we can, but this is a particularly big challenge for Jordan at this time.

We are working with the government on many levels: financing, generation, transmission, improved gas processing. I really believe the biggest challenge is the biggest contracts previously signed – particularly oil shale. We aren’t involved in that given the CO2 emissions generated from that project. In the medium term there will be more scope for renewables, but in the short term these decisions need to be thought through very carefully.”

ON EGYPT’S 1.48 GW BENBAN SOLAR PARK

“Egypt is a big success story for us because of Benban – not only the pricing but also the execution of it, and we are incredibly happy to be a part of it. And yes, prices have since come further down since the tender of Benban, so future solar prices will have to reflect this change in overall pricing. I think we have very open and constructive discussions with the Egyptian government over these things and I believe there is more scope for both renewables and storage there.

Time and time again it’s the same: in Jordan from round one to round two everybody became very educated and suddenly wanted to renegotiate round one pricing – but no, you need the first round to gain confidence and investment.

There is definitely scope for more investment in Egypt, but there won’t be a second Benban in terms of solar projects. But we’ve just come back from advanced discussions with several ministries in Egypt pushing for PPPs and desalination. So, there are new aspects of pursuing desalination with renewables in terms of pumping and electricity supply. These are new opportunities for the EBRD. We are also looking to roll out our ‘green cities’ framework in Egypt. We’ve recently also opened a third office in Egypt after Cairo and Alexandria, Ismailia. So there might not be a new Benban, but there are tons of areas where infrastructure is really moving forward and the government is really pushing for more private sector involvement and PPPs – a big push for engagement.”

ON INCREASING EBRD’S TUNISIA PRESENCE

“We are in direct negotiations currently with the winners of this [latest solar development] round – as are several other international financial institutions. These are ongoing but haven’t been concluded. We have also helped the government a lot with its regulatory environment and designing PPAs [power purchase agreements] that are bankable, based on our experiences in Egypt and Jordan. So we are confident we will end up one of the financing institutions at the end of the day.

Renewables will be the first big step, but there have also been some discussions around support for state power utility STEG, we need to look at it more carefully and consider what we can achieve. We are looking at it and need to consider how significantly we intend to scale up.”

ON WORKING IN LEBANON

“We are following current events there very carefully. We are actually the only IFI [international financial institution] that has been active in our trade facilitation program so on a day to day basis we approve levels of credit for essential goods. We are very active with Lebanese banks and we are talking with some corporate actors to see if we can offer levels of support.

We were very active in our business advisory program which has not stopped in the last few months, so yeah at the moment we are looking at everything carefully, but we are in Lebanon to stay and support the local economy. We’ve all heard about the IMF’s technical assistance mission, so the engagement is very positive.”

ON EBRD PLANS IN PALESTINE

“Most projects are very small but we’ve mainly worked with local banks on financial inclusion. We’ve also opened five medical laboratories in the West Bank. So we are doing small projects, and we are in discussions to broaden our involvement this year.”

ON 2020 INVESTMENT PLANS

“We spent around €2bn last year, but the EBRD is a demand-driven organization, so we expect to grow this year but we don’t have a certain percentage of growth that we pursue. If we find projects, we can grow. We are certainly expecting year-on-year growth from 2020 onward.”

See analysis, MEES, 28 February