Beyond 2015: Proposal for powering Africa’s future

Beyond 2015: Proposal for powering Africa’s future

Thursday, October 1, 2015 10:13 am

By Oluwatoba Oguntuase

Solar Power: a renewable energy form

Solar Power: a renewable energy form

At the Abuja venue of the World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) 2014, Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man noted that the Africa Rising story and the steady regional economic growth in recent years, were achieved in spite of the continent’s chronic energy challenge. He then declared that Africa’s GDP could rise to $29 trillion by 2050 with improved energy access. Also, as Akinwumi Adesina assumed the presidency of the African Development Bank (AfDB) last month on September 1, he declared the task of facilitating the powering of Africa’s growth as a crucial and urgent task for the bank.

These declarations are apt. The imperative of universal clean energy access has now become a global mandate as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted at the 2015 United Nations Summit held in New York between 25-27 of September. The SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire by December 31 this year. Achieving SDG 7, which is “Affordable and Clean Energy”, is central to the attainment of the remaining 16 goals and more so for Africa; the world’s energy poorest region.

On 5 June 2015, the African Progress Panel – a group of ten distinguished individuals from the private and public sector, who advocate for equitable and sustainable development for Africa and chaired by Dr. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel laureate – released the AfricanProgress Report (APR) 2015 at the 25th World Economic Forum on Africa held in Cape Town, South Africa tagged “Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities,” and recommended that investment in energy must be significantly scaled up to unlock Africa’s potential as a global low-carbon superpower, especially when the continent’s energy deficits stand in stark contrast to its potential.

APR 2015 in its Overview captures the region’s development dilemma and instructively submits: “Nowhere are the threads connecting energy, climate and development more evident than in Africa. No region has made a smaller contribution to climate change. Yet Africa will pay the highest price for failure to avert a global climate catastrophe. Meanwhile, the region’s energy systems are underpowered, inefficient and unequal. Energy deficits act as a brake on economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction, and they reinforce inequalities linked to wealth, gender and the rural-urban divide”. The APR further emphasised that “Sub-Saharan Africa is desperately short of electricity. The region’s grid has a power generation capacity of just 90 gigawatts (GW) and half of it is located in one country, South Africa. Electricity consumption in Spain exceeds that of the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Available statistics show that Africa has enormous task in her hands in terms of tackling the continent’s energy challenge. According to United States Agency for International Development (USAID), “600 million people, 70% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity.” In a publication by Mckinsey & Co., it is estimated that “$835 billion of investment is needed to meet sub-Saharan Africa’s energy needs by 2040.” Again, more gruelling data are revealed in the Africa Progress Report (APR) 2015 earlier mentioned:

“Despite 15 years of sustained economic growth, power shortages, restricted access to electricity and dependence on biomass for fuel are undermining efforts to reduce poverty. The energy gap between Africa and the rest of the world is widening. Fifteen years ago, per capital energy use in Sub-Saharan Africa was 30 per cent of the level in South Asia, now it is just 24 per cent and still falling…”

“Access to clean, non-polluting cooking facilities is even more restricted. Almost four in five rely for cooking on solid biomass, mainly fuelwood and charcoal. As a result, 600,000 people in the region die each year of household air pollution. Almost half are children under 5.”

“The international community has set the goal of achieving universal access to modern energy by 2030. Sub-Saharan Africa is not on track to achieve that target. It is the only region in which the absolute number of people without access to modern energy is set to rise, by 45 million for electricity and 184 million for clean cooking stoves.”

“On current trends, it will take Africa until 2080 to achieve universal access to electricity. Universal access to clean cooking facilities would occur around 100 years later, sometimes after the middle of the 22nd Century.”

Clearly it can be seen that the present states of Africa’s energy access and safety are not sustainable. Efforts, therefore, must be canalized at all levels; sub-regional, regional, transnational and global to end our ubiquitous “life without light.” Africa’s entrepreneurs, philanthropies, and thriving businesses should improve on their public-private-partnership (PPP) arrangements with governmental institutions, to finance a new regime of sustainable clean energy access; that will unlock the continent’s growth potential.

There could be a silver lining in Africa’s cloud of energy poverty. Kevin Watkins, director of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) who also worked on the APR 2015 recently observed that: “the sheer scale of Africa’s energy deficit often fuels a sense of fatalism and paralysis, yet on the flipside of this crisis are enormous opportunities…” Watkins and others who have argued in this direction are undoubtedly right.

Africa is not only the most energy challenged but also the least polluted continent. It therefore is in a better position to achieve green growth than the advanced regions of the world; if its energy potential is efficiently harnessed. Energy consumption in China, USA, Japan and across Europe is huge and still largely hydrocarbon based. With much of this currently sourced from oil and coal, it seems greater efforts, than needed in Africa, are going to be required in world’s largest economies; in transiting from destructive growth into sustainable development.

Again, going by present global realities, Africa stands the chance of being the only continent that may change the path of development history – It can attain sufficient energy access to power the future it wants, without being on a collision course with global climate action. Kofi Anan, Jeffrey Sachs, Desmond Tutu, Caroline Kende-Robb and other thinkers alike have posited that, Africa could leapfrog from its current state of energy challenge into becoming a global clean energy superpower, without necessarily having to build expensive central grid infrastructure. This is possible.

There is an abundant endowment of renewable energy sources that can be harnessed to support low-carbon development in Africa. Solar power is one source of renewables currently transforming major African nations, from Morocco to Ghana and Mali, Mauritania, Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Namibia, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. There are also ongoing investments into solar energy as a sustainable alternative power source in Nigeria. Q-Cells, a German energy company, projects that solar will be at grid parity by the end of 2015 in most countries in the region; and by 2020 expected to be cheaper than the grid in 85% of Africa.

Given that about two third of Africans presently live outside grid connectivity, it is cheaper, cleaner and more sustainable to focus on developing affordable solar solutions to African homes and businesses. For long, large-scale generation and transmission lines, run by inefficient and monopolistic utility companies, have failed to deliver. No thanks to official corruption and bureaucracy. Nigeria, a global oil superpower, Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation, has for similar reason been bedevilled, almost perennially, by power crisis. A new regime of widespread distributed generation, through solar panels, has the potential of lightening African cities and remote villages, ending its endemic subsidy corruption and mitigating its wide infrastructure finance gap.

Solar is good news also for foreign investors, who have an eye on Africa’s energy sector. Over US $50 billion needed annually from now till 2030 to finance Africa’s energy sector gap, presents attractive investment. New regulatory framework must be laid to make African economies open to private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds and investment bankers etc., to come in to the energy sector.

International cooperation for development is equally desirable. The US-sponsored Power Africa, initiated by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2013 is a veritable example. According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Power Africa “is working with African governments, the private sector, and other partners to add more than 30,000 megawatts (MW) of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity as well as increase electricity access by adding 60 million new home and business connections throughout all of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Private sector organisations that develop skilled manpower, and also invest in production of renewables are critical to attaining energy sufficiency, efficiency and sustenance in Africa. Support should therefore be given to initiatives such as the Lagos Energy Academy in Nigeria, Solar Sister in Uganda and similar other organisations across the continent.

Achieving efficient and sufficient energy access, that will lift Africa from darkness and poverty into light and development, will require setting up a special Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA). The fund will also have to be canalised and supported by stakeholders across and beyond the continent. This is because the future of energy in Africa, will to a large extent determine the future of global sustainable development.

As nations and regions of the world strategise on implementation of the newly adopted post-MDGs’ development template, and progress on the road to the December 2015 Paris Conference on a new global climate treaty, it is the aim of this writer that development experts, particularly in Africa, will channel the path to striking a sustainable balance between the goals of energy access and climate action.

The author: Oluwatoba Oguntuase

The author: Oluwatoba Oguntuase

 *Oguntuase, a lawyer and development-policy analyst is the founder; Oladog Policy and Research Communications. This piece is an excerpt from his June 2015 Proposal on “Sustainable Global Clean Energy Access” made available to about 20 global organisations including The World Bank Group and United Nations


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