Africa’s energy-sharing spirit

Africa’s energy-sharing spirit

At the 2017 Africa Energy Indaba – the World Energy Council’s (WEC’s) ninth annual regional event – hundreds of energy experts gathered to discuss a way forward for the continent’s energy industry. ANLERIE DE WET reports

The Indaba, which was held at the Sandton Convention Centre on February 21 and 22, saw more than ten African energy ministers and more than 60 CEOs from the private sector advocate for a variety of sustainable energy, policy and trade solutions for the imminent rise of Africa in the energy industry.

Karl Rose, senior director of scenarios and policies at the WEC, said Africa has everything it needs to produce sustainable energy, including the money. “Africa needs to speed up decision-making and needs the courage to try new things. Only when it faces these challenges will it unlock better trade and economic growth,” he said.

Kornelia Shilunga, Namibia’s deputy minister of energy, and Samuel Undenge, Zimbabwe’s minister of energy and power development, agreed with Rose that policy decision-making and implementation is not taking place as fast as it should, but this is not because of a lack of trying.

“We have the policies, instruments and institutions for regional integration, but each country has its own unique challenges that slow down the process,” said Shilunga.

The panellists from the discussion on Africa’s future energy mix indicated that policies will be the key driving factor to get countries to adopt a more sustainable energy mix.

“Africa’s energy mix has to adapt. It will do so, because it is necessary for the continent’s economic stability. Each country needs to have sufficient self-sustainable domestic energy before looking at trading its energy with the rest of the continent,” said Louis Schaffer, distributed energy segment manager at Eaton Electric for Europe, Middle East and African regions.

The Indaba had a few sessions where renewable energy access, security and opportunities were discussed. Nuclear energy had its own one-day programme, however, at which the panellists for each discussion were all experts in the field.

Rob Jeffrey, senior economist and managing consultant at Econometrix, said nuclear is expensive compared to renewable energy, but a nuclear plant’s life expectancy is longer. “A nuclear plant will be able to produce energy for at least 60 years, where renewable energy plants, such as wind and solar, produce energy for only about 30 to 40 years. If they had the same lifespan, the costs would be very similar,” said Jeffrey.

Prof Dawid Serfontein, from the University of the North-West’s School of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, said the local media is reporting that a nuclear build programme will “bankrupt” South Africa, but he believes this is not necessarily the case. “Since I compiled a report on the cost and necessity for a nuclear programme in 2012, the rand has lost half of its value. So to build a nuclear plant will now cost a lot more, but if we work smart it won’t bankrupt us,” said Serfontein.

He explained: “If we buy a plant from Europe or America, we will have to pay in dollars or pounds. However, if we buy from the Chinese or Russians and they don’t ask the dollar price, then we will be able to make nuclear work.”

Mike Peo, head of infrastructure, energy and telecommunications at Nedbank Capital, says the country’s politics play a big role in getting investment for the nuclear programme. “The cost of nuclear becomes higher if there is no trust in our political leaders. If there is no trust in the country, we won’t get the investment mix that we need to fund the programme,” said Peo.

Another hot topic in the Indaba’s nuclear programme, was how to change the negative perception South Africans have about nuclear energy. This is in part due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that occurred in Japan in 2011 – which led to chemical explosions after the Tōhoku earthquake and the tsunami that followed.

Reports showed that the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, had failed to meet basic safety requirements. In the meantime, however, new technology has been developed to prevent a similar incident from occurring.

Phumzile Tselane, CEO of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), said: People generally think of bombs when they hear the word ‘nuclear’. We need to educate South Africans to accept nuclear and get them to mobilise behind the programme and learn the necessary skills to run a nuclear plant for its 60-year lifespan.”

The Indaba included side events, such as the Africa Gas Forum and the Women in Energy Conference, but the new kid on the block was the first-ever African Youth Energy Innovator Awards. This has created a much-needed platform for talented African youth to showcase their important work.

The top five innovators had to pitch their products to a panel of judges and endure a question and answer session before the winner was chosen. Patrick Akpan, a PhD mechanical engineering student at the University of Cape Town, won the first place for his energy-efficient fruit palm steriliser.

The Indaba also showcased an exciting exhibition, where a varied range of energy companies displayed their products or services to influential people in the industry.

The African Energy Indaba team and its strategic partners – South African National Energy Association (Sanea), the New Economic Partnership for African Development (Nepad) Agency and the South African Electrotechnical Export Council – thanked all those who played their part to make the Indaba another runaway success. The team is already gearing up for the next event in 2018.

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