Dr. Hanna Klein (center) of Gigawatt Global is planning to switch the village flour mills from diesel to solar-powered electric motors. Dr. Hanna Klein (center) of Gigawatt Global is planning to switch the village flour mills from diesel to solar-powered electric motors. Dr. Hanna Klein (center) of Gigawatt Global is planning to switch the village flour mills from diesel to solar-powered electric motors. (Photo: Patrick Nzitunga)

New field of solar panels will power 15% of African nation

Israel-based CEO of Gigawatt Global says project will supply jobs and clean energy to Burundi.

Yosef Abramowitz, a native of Massachusetts who moved to Israel in 2006, is in constant motion. "Two weeks ago I was in Guinea," he said when he paused for a moment to answer some of our questions. "Last week I was in Zambia and next week I'm in Rwanda and Ethiopia."

Abramowitz, the CEO of Gigawatt Global, has had Africa on his mind as of late. This week, his company is breaking ground on a solar field in Burundi. It should be up and running later this year, just in time for the United Nations' conference on climate change. Once operational, it will supply 15% of the entire country's electricity, displacing the likes of diesel fuel.

The construction of the nearly 30-acre field of solar panels will provide 300 jobs in the village of Mubuga, and 50 ongoing positions once it's turned on. "We're going to be very generous with the jobs because you want to be able to create economic opportunity for the villages around there," Abramowitz told From The Grapevine.

This is not the first such solar field for Gigawatt Global, an American-owned Dutch developer that has operations in both Africa and Israel. In 2015, they built a similar one in Rwanda. That $23.7 million facility opened to much fanfare when U2's lead singer Bono came to the ribbon-cutting. And in 2018, they built one in Glynn County, Ga., that powers thousands of homes.

Left to right: Yossi Abramowitz, Bono, Gigawatt Global co-founder Chaim Motzen and U.S. Senator Chris Coons at the opening of the solar field in Rwanda. Left to right: Yosef Abramowitz, Bono, Gigawatt Global co-founder Chaim Motzen and U.S. Senator Chris Coons at the opening of the solar field in Rwanda. (Photo: Courtesy Gigawatt Global)

Gigawatt Global, founded in 2012, is a founding member of the United States Power Africa Initiative, a project launched by President Obama in 2013. Their funding comes from a mix of investors, private equity and grants. "There's not enough charity and there's not enough foreign aid to lift a continent out of poverty," Abramowitz explained.

Abramowitz is quick to point out that he is not acting alone. "I can't actually do anything myself," he said with a laugh. "I always get more credit than I deserve." One person who has been a constant by his side is Michael Fichtenberg, the vice president for finance and business development of Gigawatt Global, who has shepherded the project on the ground in Burundi.

Gigawatt Global already has 10 new projects in the works throughout Africa. "Eleven out of the 20 fastest-growing economies on the planet are in Africa," Abramowitz said. "So it dovetails with incredible economic opportunity."

For the 55-year-old Abramowitz, who the New York Times dubbed "Captain Sunshine" and who CNN named one of the world's six leading "Green Pioneers," the work in Africa is a personal one. He and his wife Susan adopted two of their five children from the continent. "Our heart is forever linked there," he said. "Our kids came to us out of tragedy, one that can probably be prevented through poverty alleviation. And there's nothing more influential in poverty alleviation that energy access." He paused, and then added, "As someone who cares about human dignity, you can't not be focused on it. It's in our soul."

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New field of solar panels will power 15% of African nation
Israel-based CEO of Gigawatt Global says project will supply jobs and clean energy to Burundi.