INTERVIEW WITH BLAISE EDJA
General Manager Global LPG Business, Oryx Energies
In this next scintillating interview, we spoke to Mr. Blaise Edja, General Manager Global LPG Business, Oryx Energies to get a more wholesome view of LPG development and for him to give us his thoughts about the direction and future of the industry in Africa.
Tell us about your journey in the LPG industry and how you’ve come to be the GM for Global LPG Business at Oryx Energies.
I have been involved in the LPG industry for more than twenty years. I started as head of Total’s LPG department in Côte d’Ivoire, before moving to Shell as General Manager Shell Gas (LPG) Côte d’Ivoire. I joined Oryx Oil & Gas (AOG’s former downstream division) in February 2005, a few months after they purchased Shell’s LPG business and assets in Côte d’Ivoire, which I was managing. I spent over six years as Managing Director of the three affiliates Oryx Oil & Gas had in Côte d’Ivoire, before moving to Geneva in April 2011 to occupy the position of General Manager Global LPG for what has become Oryx Energies.
When did you figure out that the Energy Industry (or specifically LPG) was your calling?
After graduating in electromechanical engineering, I was hired as Production Unit Manager by a company in the steel industry. I had a very interesting job that involved developing machines and products. Some months later, I left to join the Oil Products Industry. My decision was guided by what I had read in an interesting book about the organic origins of petroleum and petroleum production.
Tell us about your role in Oryx Energies as GM of Global LPG Business and any significant milestone achievements that you’ve had.
As General Manager Global LPG Business, I am responsible for defining the global strategy of Oryx Energies’ LPG business. This includes steering new businesses and agreeing on locations. I also support our affiliates in the development of their LPG businesses, particularly in the areas of marketing & sales, operations and competency development.
Together with all the people involved in Oryx Energies’ LPG business, we have grown the turnover by more than 172% between 2010 and 2015. We are also proud to enjoy a strong position in the LPG markets of most of the countries in which we operate.
ON ORYX ENERGIES
Tell us about Oryx Energies’ LPG activities in Africa and how they fit into the company’s grand scheme.
Overall, the company has earned considerable respect across the continent, over the past 25 years, for the depth of its understanding of Africa and its ability to respond and adapt, quickly and reliably, to the energy needs of its customers. We aim to continue to expand our product and service network to ensure continent-wide access for consumers and businesses to the oil and gas products essential to economic and social development.
Our commitment to providing a complete range of energy solutions in sub-Saharan Africa has seen us diversify into several energy-related specialist products over the years. From fuels to LPG, lubricants and, more recently, bitumen. We have been promoting LPG for almost 16 years as a cleaner, more affordable and ecological energy alternative to firewood, charcoal and paraffin for heating and cooking.
Oryx Energies has currently LPG operations in ten countries, which are Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.
We plan to make substantial investments to further develop LPG in the region, with the objective of providing more people with access to the product.
What are some major barriers/challenges that Oryx Energies has faced in entering and doing LPG business in Africa?
The main challenges we face are lack of infrastructure, product availability, affordability and the lack of awareness of LPG as a safe and clean energy alternative. Finding competent people for the LPG business is also a challenge in some countries. We need to overcome these challenges to succeed in any market. This is why we carry out in-depth market surveys before entering a market and we are always prepared to manage the challenges I described above. Things don’t always work out the way we planned, but our LPG business is growing well and these are exciting markets.
What plans does Oryx Energies have to continue to spread LPG use in Africa?
As I said earlier, Oryx Energies is continuing to invest in LPG storage and distribution infrastructure in selected countries with the objective of providing more people with a clean energy that improves health and quality of life. For example, we are currently investing in increasing our LPG capacity in Tanzania, as well as developing our footprint upcountry. We also have plans in many other countries in both West and East Africa. You will understand that I am unable to say more on future plans at this stage.
WORKING WITH GOVERNMENTS
Does Oryx Energies work with any local governments for propagating the use of LPG?
We have an ambitious program to continue to spread LPG use in sub-Saharan Africa. This requires that the issues related to the development of LPG in most countries are properly addressed. Within this context, we interact with a number of local governments in developing and enforcing regulations, and in identifying and dealing with non-compliance. We don’t have the ambition to recommend specific energy policies, but we do try to help to extend the reach of LPG and accelerate its penetration.
How would you describe this symbiotic relationship with the government in terms of growing the LPG business in Africa?
It is imperative that governments and policymakers create the necessary conditions to stimulate the commercial investments required to provide more people with access to LPG. Without mentioning specific countries, the focus on LPG matters varies significantly from country to country. Some governments are very helpful and supportive of the LPG industry. They understand the advantages of this energy, which also responds to their health and environmental objectives. They also understand that their role is primarily to protect the interests of both customers and industry, and they are prepared to work with companies in order to make LPG widely and reliably available at an affordable price.
What plans does Oryx Energies have for the future?
I have already mentioned that Oryx Energies plans to make substantial investments to further develop LPG in the region. We are working on increasing our LPG footprint in countries where we currently have operations and also in creating new businesses in other countries. We aim to become the leading LPG company in sub-Saharan Africa.
Does Oryx Energies see a bright future for LPG in Africa? How so?
I believe that there is an enormous potential for LPG consumption in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The health, safety and environmental issues surrounding the continued and extensive use of firewood, charcoal and kerosene in the region need to be addressed in a sustainable and affordable manner, and I am convinced that LPG is one of the solutions.
There is also a broad consensus that sub-Saharan Africa is one of the world’s fastest growing regions today. As a modern energy source for cooking and heating, I am convinced that LPG will play a key role in the response to the region’s growing energy demand.
In your opinion, will it be possible to one day eventually have an LPG system in African nations that will be fully functional, and one that supplies LPG to millions who do not have access to clean energy?
I strongly believe so, even if the road to achieving access to LPG for most of the population in sub-Saharan Africa will be rocky, with a lot of challenges to overcome.
In this era of climate change, governments have to set strategies that reduce the link between energy and greenhouse emissions, in order to achieve sustainable social and economic development. And right now, LPG is an appropriate solution to achieve this.
What actions do you feel can be done by others in the value chain to help make this a reality?
All the stakeholders (LPG industry, governments and consumers) have a role to play in the development of the consumption of LPG.
Governments need to provide a competitive business climate through the application of sound practices that ensure common rules for all. They need to clearly define the rights and responsibilities of all participants, including customers; to offer investors an opportunity for a fair financial return and provide a form of redress for those aggrieved by bad practices.
The LPG industry should co-operate and assist regulatory authorities in enforcing regulations and invest in storage and distribution capacities in order to reach a majority of the population.
The consumer needs to use the product for what it is designed for and in a safe manner.
Do you feel that globally, the LPG industry is progressing down the right path? (The right path being – the best use of this amazing fuel)
I think so. A lot of work has been done by the WLPGA (World LPG Association), together with some LPG marketing companies, to promote the use of LPG by demonstrating its benefits, and informing and educating all stakeholders. I would also mention the role of summits like the Africa LPG Summit in promoting the use of this exceptional energy.
(LPG Business Review)