THE lack of access to electricity in Africa is so bad, a leading Nigerian industrialist has suggested that a state of emergency be declared on the continent’s energy sector in order to deal with this acute problem.
With over 600 million Africans in the dark, the Managing Director of Sahara Power Group, Kola Adesina, said: ‘Energy is a critical component of driving economic growth and prosperity.’
During a meeting with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa at last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Adesina added: ‘Africa needs to have a common energy sector agenda that addresses the peculiarities of the various markets across the entire energy value chain.
‘Sahara Group would be delighted to partner with South Africa to drive this agenda, working alongside all stakeholders,’ said the head of the Nigerian-owned company, which is a leading international energy and infrastructure conglomerate with operations in over 38 countries across Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
The meeting was also attended by South African Minister of Energy Jeff Radebe and Sahara’s Director for Governance and Sustainability, Pearl Uzokwe.
Both sides said they wanted more to be done to harness the potential of Africa’s energy sector, adding that achieving a robust energy sector remained the most critical component of the levers Africa needed to leapfrog into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the theme of this year’s WEF.
Radebe said a collaborative approach involving all stakeholders on the continent should be adopted and driven by an empowered public-private partnership.
‘The energy potential of Africa is immense and so much is being done to exploit this potential.
‘However, what we need is a properly defined machinery that would address the issue from a micro and macro level across the continent through cooperation.
‘South Africa will be willing to partner with Sahara Group and other stakeholders to achieve this,’ Radebe added.
Adesina said the Sahara Group had since been leading the conversation on the need for energy cooperation in Africa, and added that he believed that South Africa had a lot to offer the continent as a frontline economy that had continued to demonstrate strategic leadership in the energy sector.
He said that huge investment in technology would be required to expand the energy mix to include more modern renewable energy sources.
Sahara’s Uzokwe said the continent must ensure that any energy agenda adopted must have strong governance and sustainability components for continuity and longevity.
‘Supportive legislation, environmental consideration, safety and the sustainable development goals must be well articulated in the agenda.
‘Transparency and the creation of a level playing field are also factors to be considered as we would be looking at applicability across markets with different capacities,’ she added.
Industry experts say meeting current and future energy demand remains a major challenge in all African countries with the continent’s population expected to hit 2.3 billion people by 2050.
With the International Monetary Fund cutting its growth forecast for 2019 and 2020, which could have an adverse effect on African economies, economists believe that Africa should push more for energy security instead of energy transition, which focuses on renewable resources at the expense of fossil fuels.
‘There are still people pushing for energy transition, when Africa has ample fossil fuels resources that could make a difference,’ one noted.
‘But they do not appreciate the growth that Africa is capable of or the impact it would have at this time.
‘Now is the time for energy security and certainty not for taking risks.’
Richard Newell, President of the Washington DC-based think tank, Resources for the Future, is one who has spoken out against energy transition.
‘There is this idea that we went from wood, to coal, to gas and oil, then to nuclear and now we’re going to renewables,’ he said.
‘If we look in terms of shares [of total energy supplies], then we do see exactly that.
‘But that’s misleading when what matters for the environment is not the shares but the aggregate levels.’
He pointed out that there had ‘never been an energy transition’ whereby old fuels were replaced by more advanced ones.
Newell said that with the advent of each new energy source, this had been added to the ones already in use.
According to the International Energy Agency’s Energy Access Outlook 2017 report, nearly all of those who gained access to electricity worldwide in the last 16 years, did so through new grid connections, mostly from fossil fuels – 45 per cent of which came from coal.
It currently provides 38 per cent of the world’s electricity and is essential in the production of 71.5 per cent of the world’s steel and 70 per cent of cement.
Although a growing number of countries have set out policies to phase out of coal-fired power plants, the IEA noted that ‘market trends are proving resistant to change”.
Keisuke Sadamori, Director of Energy Markets and Security at the IEA, explained: “The story of coal is a tale of two worlds with climate action policies and economic forces leading to closing coal power plants in some countries, while coal continues to play a part in securing access to affordable energy in others.’
The IEA said that this was why it thinks that technologies like Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) were ‘essential tools to bridge current and future energy needs with global and national climate ambitions.’
Recently the IEA and the British government organised a meeting where ministers, senior government officials across the world, CEOs from major energy companies and the financial community came together to identify practical steps to accelerate investment and deployment of CCUS.
‘Tackling our long-term climate goals, addressing the urgent health impacts of air pollution and ensuring that more people around the world have access to energy will require an approach that marries strong policies with innovative technologies,’ said Sadamori.
‘It must rely on all available options – including more renewables, of course.’
The WEF itself is concerned about energy poverty in Africa and is running its Energy Access Africa programme to help improve the situation.
‘The overall objective of the project is to contribute, via public-private cooperation, to the annual 8.4 per cent required electrification growth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa in order to reach universal energy access by 2030,’ the WEF said.