Africa’s energy transition, motivated by the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and the alleviation of energy poverty by 2050, remains a top priority and critical point of discussion in 2021. With international treaties such as the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change influencing the shift from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy developments, many African countries have implemented supportive policies and regulation, increased Independent Power Producer (IPP) participation, and recognized the role of natural gas as a transitionary resource.
In Africa, energy poverty remains a significant concern with over 640 million people lacking access to electricity. With energy poverty comprising a direct hinderance to economic growth, there has been a renewed focus on renewable power generation developments to meet rising demand, address electrification targets, and comply with global climate initiatives. In a bid to fast-track renewable developments and establish an enabling environment for investment, many African countries have implemented renewable supportive policies and regulations. Specifically, countries such as Morocco with its Law 13-09 providing a legal framework for the development of renewable energy; Egypt’s net-metering scheme to promote distributed solar; and South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan, have established investor confidence, leading to increased developments.
Despite the renewed focus on renewable developments, one of the primary challenges slowing down Africa’s energy transition comprises the lack of sufficient finance required for large-scale power generation developments. As Addleshaw & Goddard state in their Africa Energy Transition: Policy and regulatory developments report, Africa’s electricity markets – the majority of which are state-funded and operated – may require significant amounts of private capital if they are to shift to 100% renewable energy generation. The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes, in its Electricity Market Report 2020, that the majority of countries have vertically integrated utilities with little or no private participation. This limits grid development and generation to public funds. Accordingly, countries such as South Africa have introduced programs intended to boost Independent Power Producer (IPP) participation and drive investment into associated renewable projects. Additionally, countries are shifting to private ownership and operatorship of transmission infrastructure to accelerate grid developments and reduce energy poverty. Notably, the National Electricity Regulatory Authority of Uganda has proposed the privatization of certain parts of the Ugandan power transmission system, thus spurring private investment and involvement in the country.
However, renewable energy alone may not be enough to address Africa’s energy crisis. Despite decreasing costs of renewable technologies accelerating developments, financing, intermittency, and feasibility challenges characteristic of renewables continues to hinder economic growth. Accordingly, the role of natural gas in addressing electricity demand while facilitating a transition to cleaner fuel sources has been identified. Africa’s abundant natural gas resources – 221.6 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves are in sub-Saharan Africa alone – have the potential to address global energy demand. Additionally, natural gas is considered an ideal ‘stepping-stone’ to climate friendly energy sources. The development and utilization of natural gas can ensure socioeconomic growth through energy poverty alleviation and enable the renewable energy market enough time to adequately develop.
The need for an energy transition in Africa has only been further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, in which a reinforced energy divide and increasing energy poverty rates have led to a re-focusing on renewable developments to meet rising demand and address electricity challenges. In response to these challenges, and to facilitate and coordinate Africa’s energy transition, the African Energy Chamber’s (AEC) upcoming African Energy Week (AEW) 2021, an interactive exhibition and networking event taking place on the 9th-12th November in Cape Town, has placed the energy transition as a key focus at the event. Through informative conference sessions, productive networking events, and interactive workshops, AEW 2021 will unite global financiers with African renewable opportunities. Additionally, AEW 2021 incorporates multiple sectors in one exclusive event. By integrating oil and gas, renewables, and investment in a comprehensive event program, AEW 2021 serves to promote Africa’s energy transition while recognizing the role of traditional sectors.