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Google's director of energy and sustainability, Rick Needham, has said publicly the company only pursues investments that both make financial sense and that have "transformative" potential for the growth of clean energy.
"We're investing in clean energy so it's more accessible for our company and for everyone," Google's "Green" website states. "We're helping create a clean energy future that's better for our business and the environment."
While Google's green investments are for profit, its philanthropic arm has supported SolarAid, which is working to build solar access for so-called off-grid African communities.
The positives of small-scale solar aren't lost on other investors, including Zouk Capital and Vulcan Capital (which backed Tanzania-based Off Grid Electric); LGT Venture Philanthropy (which backed Kenya-based M-KOPA Solar); and CrossBoundary Energy (which recently raised an investment fund to finance rooftop solar power for African businesses, both on and off the electrical grid).
Google is hardly new to sub-Saharan Africa. The tech company has offices in Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; Lagos, Nigeria; Dakar, Senegal; Johannesburg; and Kampala, Uganda.
While the company's investment would likely be relatively small—perhaps in the tens of millions of dollars, according to the people with knowledge of the talks—it would have broader implications.
One is that Google's involvement could encourage others to follow.
Sophisticated investors are increasingly looking to build power and energy infrastructure on the continent, including private equity firms Blackstone Group, Carlyle Group and Denham Capital. But there have been few so-called exits, when investors in a project cash out by selling their stake to another party.
Since Turkana has already raised all the money it needs, a Google investment—if it plays out—would be a boost of confidence for other investors to know there are buyers once a project is relatively developed.
"As assets mature you will begin to see developers and private equity firms looking to exit transactions to parties looking for steady annuity income," Kwame Parker, head of power and infrastructure for East Africa at South Africa's Standard Bank, said in an email about Google potentially purchasing an existing stake in the wind project.
"Given Google's global profile and the profile of Lake Turkana Wind Farm, a Google investment would be a significant vote of confidence for investors considering African power market entry," added Parker, who helped arrange financing for Turkana (he declined to comment on Google's plans specifically).
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Turkana locked in the money it needed in 2014 with a so-called financial close after years of planning. The money raised for the project is broken down into equity stakes, which have higher risk but also higher rewards, and debt, which carries less risk for the lenders. The majority of the equity is held by co-developers KP&P Africa, a group of Dutch and Kenyan businessmen, and power project specialist Aldwych International, which is majority owned by South Africa-based private equity firm Harith.
Other financial backers include the governments of Denmark, Finland and Norway, and Vestas, the Danish wind company making the project's 365 turbines. The African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank also provided debt and other support.