By Ejiro Gray
Climate resilience must be a key consideration in creating any sustainable solutions to closing the energy gap in Africa and indeed the continent’s infrastructure development agenda. Research has shown that Africa contributes just about 3% of the cumulative carbon emissions globally while accounting for approximately 6% of global energy demand (largely due to the slow pace of development in the continent). However, the continent is the hardest hit by climate change but the least equipped to tackle the consequences.
Energy demand in Africa is driven primarily by electricity demand. Currently, Africa takes up just a little more than three percent of global electricity demand. However, though electricity demand is plateauing in the West, it is envisaged that in Africa, demand would have at least doubled by 2040. This demand forecast is linked to Africa’s projected development trajectory and population growth with a consequent increase in demand for energy. The interesting thing about this is that an increase in energy demand will bring about a marginal increase in CO2 emissions. However, improved access to energy across the continent also means that the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions will be offset by a reduction in other GHG emissions. A good example of this would be the emissions from the use of biomass as a cooking fuel, a major source of emissions and health complications in sub-Saharan Africa. This becomes even more pertinent where the energy gap is closed by utilizing a good mix of clean energy sources.
According to a 2021 PwC report, approximately 730 million Africans due to inaccessibility to clean and affordable energy, rely on unsustainable sources of biomass energy for cooking, causing an estimated 600mt of carbon emissions per annum. Coupled with comparatively low energy access, infrastructure deficit, and rising temperatures as a result of global warming, Africa’s current electricity supply is inadequate to meet present needs and future demand forecasts.
Countries which place a heavy reliance on hydropower are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change on the electricity sector, due to the susceptibility of the electricity source to extreme weather conditions. This also can be seen in the seasonal patterns in the Nigerian context, bringing about the urgent need for thermal and gas-powered plants to have adequate access to gas for grid balance and capacity utilization.
Picture of Success
The picture of success for Africa’s energy transition will be one in which a tripartite collaboration of industry players, financial institutions, and the Government, can optimize and leverage the present, whilst creating pathways for reliability and growth of renewable energy solutions through project bankability. In leveraging the present, Africa’s natural resources (of which natural gas remains an inextricable part), have a primary role to play in the continent’s development mandate,
Africa’s energy transition pathways cannot be developed in isolation from the reality on ground, and the strategy must support the continent’s development aspirations and socio-economic goals, till the latter (renewable energy) gains dominance in the continent’s energy mix.
Make the Most of What You Have
The energy transition strategy for a diverse continent must be country-specific and in some countries, region-specific. For instance, the Northern part of Nigeria presents a very viable opportunity to launch the development of renewable energy and off-grid solutions through solar and wind resources, while the southern part with its prolific gas reserves, would serve to support the baseload and grid stability for developing and scaling up our renewable energy solutions across the country, whilst technological improvements to batteries and storage solutions continue to rise.
The Elephant in the Room
The level of infrastructure deficit in Africa means that a significant amount of funding is required to close the gap. The funding gap can be met by the efficient and responsible utilization of Africa’s natural resources, of which fossil fuel to a large extent, still plays a key role. To ignore this role is to ignore the elephant in the room. It’s not going anywhere until addressed. It is therefore important for us to also start to take a closer look at abatement technologies in managing the environmental impact of the exploitation of these natural resources. Earnings from the development and monetization of these resources can then serve as a driver for increased investments in renewable energy, thereby augmenting efforts to drive the clean and affordable energy agenda in Africa.