'Collaboration between Africa and Europe to speed up energy transformation'

prof colombo atr oraThe partnership between Africa and Europe has the potential to speed up energy transformation progresses, according to Prof Emanuela Colombo from Italian university Politecnico di Milano

The year 2020 is seeing major changes happening worldwide including the energy sector. The sector has suffered like many other industrial sectors but it has also confirmed to be the lifeblood of society: healthcare and education via distance learning, industrial sector productivities via smart working, as well as the human relationship via an increased use of social media. 

Therefore we have all better understood, the energy challenge in Africa, a continent which is sailing fast towards its history, and performing in the demanding Global’s Cup. In this scenario, the way in which energy is mastered can make a difference between crossing the finish line or failing. 

There is a necessity to find a good balance between the overexploitation of resources and their use for human activity. In the context of an energy-climate-development plan, Africa needs a sustainable energy system that provides reliable, affordable and clean to boost local socio-economy development and to comply with the aspiration of the Agenda 2063. Concurrently, the world needs Africa to pursue its energy transition to globally comply with the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement’s pledges. 

Though within the continent there are major differences between regions, most African countries have still weakly reliable power sectors. This has important consequences on the empowerment of both the industrial and agricultural sector, which are threatened by severe and frequent power shortages.

Losses in poorly maintained networks are frequently twice the world average and cause not only important sales losses, but also reduce efficiency of transformation. Whilst electricity tariffs are often among the highest in the world, the increased use of private oil-fuelled generators as back-up facilities further affects electricity and goods prices, as well as the local environment.

Despite poor in supply, Africa is rich in fossil and renewable resources. Particularly, bioenergy, hydropower, solar and wind power with East Africa’s geothermal resources, have a huge potential. 

In a likely 2040 scenario, it is expected that electricity supply in the sub-Saharan Africa will grow fourfold and generation capacity threefold. Solar photovoltaic will probably become the largest source in terms of installed capacity, overtaking hydropower, a trend confirmed by the recent utility-scale projects today active in EgyptEthiopiaKenyaMorocco and South Africa. Hydropower is also expected to grow and to play a major role in mitigating the average costs of power supply, contributing to phase out oil-fired power plants. 

In this scenario, the inadequate energy infrastructure and the associated regulatory framework prove to be crucial limiting factors, where efforts and investment in network management, densification and extensions of the national grids are strongly required.

Infrastructure plays a crucial role for the future of natural gas. In order to transform new gas fields discoveries in Mozambique, Tanzania, Egypt, Mauritania, Senegal and South Africa into stable sources of income for the continent, it is necessary to implement strong domestic strategies to make the production effective, including building new infrastructures to support the growth of a domestic market at competitive but equitable prices. 

In terms of resources, Africa will have a major strategic geopolitical role in the international arena as it is home to the production of many raw materials, such as platinum (80%), cobalt (66%) and manganese (0.5%), thus supporting the global energy transition.

The Energy’s Cup is a challenging competition for Africa where each sailing miles count and where the crew can create the right condition for promoting creative and native thinking, not necessary replicating the same historical evolution as other geographical regions 

The traditional dichotomy between a centralised and distributed approach to electrification can be overcome and create a win-win option.

The combination of top-down infrastructure, financed by the central government, with national, international funding and capillary distributed in the country, with bottom-up off-grid solutions supported by rural agencies and implemented by local NGOs or private players can represent the optimal path for the future,  endorsed also by the World Bank, Irena and IEA. 

Providing that proper regulatory systems are in place and relying on a combination of financial scheme like auctions and feed in tariffs to assure fair competition, efficiency and high quality of the supply, it is possible to connect off-grid systems to the main grid once the extension will be complete.  

This smart asset is not only flexible and resilient, but it may also guarantee universal energy access in shorter time, promoting local exploitation of resources, allowing for higher penetration of renewable energy in the national mix and supporting innovation or adaptation of high quality technologies, fostering productive uses of energy while preparing a more interconnected and integrated system at regional level with the right enabling policies and regulatory framework in place.

The challenge Africa is facing is global

In the global panorama, Europe is eager to be more than a simple witness and sail side by side with Africa, serving as an expert trainer. Throughout the years, the old continent has achieved an electric mix with a high share of renewable energy and has acquired the capacity to master the requested flexibility, the continuous increasing of efficiencies for both generation and end use devices. 

In this scenario, to properly engage the Africa “genius” and support native innovation in addition to the traditional imported innovation, leading to technology adaptation, a closer cooperation and co-design are requested for mutual learning.

Though a seemingly daunting challenge, positive signals in this direction come from the planned Horizon 2020 Green Deal call which aims at refreshing the EU-AU partnership for leapfrogging the clean energy transition in Africa and contributes to the challenge for carbon neutrality to 2050.

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
T: +44 20 7834 7676, F: +44 20 7973 0076, W: www.alaincharles.com

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