Green innovation for Africa’s Major Energy Transition
Global energy leaders gathered at the Africa Energy Indaba (AEI) to discuss major transitions facing the African energy sector. They shared ideas in search of a solution to the energy dilemma. AIMEE SHAW attended to hear their collective plans.
This year, the Indaba was held at the Sandton Convention Centre on February 16 and 17. Participants contemplated issues and opportunities regarding the utilisation of renewable technologies with the possible inclusion of nuclear energy.
More than 50 senior energy luminaries and 11 African energy ministers from countries including Senegal, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Lesotho and Ghana, were present to advise and decide on the most resilient energy system for the future.
Businesses and investors discussed opportunities for development and the potential impact of green innovation on a macroeconomic structure. Liz Hart, managing director of AEI, said: “They are feeling the pressure to move, and to make the most of the promising opportunities available.”
According to the 2016 Climate Economy Report: “Africa’s energy sector requires an annual investment of US$ 40 billion (R624 992 billion) with a further production requirement of 7 000 megawatts per year to ensure energy access to all Africans.”
Factors for utilisation of each technology have to be weighed against cost, climate flexibility, reliability and sustainability. Christoph Frei, secretary general of the World Energy Council, said: “Innovation and the ability to deliver the most effective solution at scale will be fundamental in developing a sustainable future.”
The nuclear forum panel, held on the first day of the conference, addressed key issues and opportunities for nuclear energy. It was moderated by Coenraad Bezuidenhout, managing director at Faculty Training Institute (FTI) Consulting and was sponsored by the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa (Niasa).
Knox Msebenzi, managing director of Niasa said: “The ideal solution should be viewed in terms of an energy mix, where nuclear forms part of that mix.” A recent study, undertaken by North West University, has proved that a combination of renewables, mixed with nuclear energy, will sufficiently provide a reliable and competitive supply of base load.
Msebenzi said South Africa has the opportunity to become highly competent in specific technological developments, which are not found in other forms of energy. He believes nuclear promises a guaranteed and constant availability of sustainable energy.
In addition, Phumzile Tshelane, chief executive officer for the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) noted: “It will be possible for industries to increase productivity without contributing towards the carbon emission problem and to successfully operate, maintain and refurbish a fleet of nuclear plants with high sophistication.”
One challenge in setting up a nuclear plant is that strategic partnerships are needed to access intellectual property and to maintain its operational life. Tshelane continued: “Localisation will reduce the cost of setting up consecutive plants, with the last set being the cheapest and able to produce great returns in terms of job creation and skills development.”
Another challenge is the safety aspect of a nuclear plant. Tshelane added: “The safety of South Africa’s nuclear plants is governed by legislation, which is governed by a nuclear regulator.”
Government has also allocated 17,8 GW towards renewables and only 9,6 GW towards nuclear. According to Tshelane: “The benefits of setting up a nuclear plant far outweigh the initial capital expenditure required, with the potential of supplying an abundance of cheap electrical power with a lifespan of approximately 60 years.
“Necsa is gearing up for the export market through specialised engineering and manufacturing and is the only manufacturing organisation in Africa to have acquired the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) III Nuclear Certification.
“We are ready to support the South African nuclear build programme and to supply nuclear components to the international market,” he said.
In closing, Des Muller, director of Nuclear Construction Services at Group 5, claimed that: “Nuclear is the cheapest, cleanest and most sustainable form of energy.”
The second day of the conference saw a focus on renewable technologies for innovation and storage. The green-technologies panel was moderated by Jason Schäffler, managing director for Nano Energy.
Opening the panel, Schäffler said: “The rising narrative in Africa revolves around production, and choices need to be made.” He focused on development and training as part of the requirements in utilisation of renewable technologies.
Pam Sitienei, CEO for African Energy Association, noted: “Research and development should drive private and public sector integration. There is also a need to train, develop and build talent with an adequate rate of return.”
“A decentralised system also requires the necessary management expertise to operate successfully,” said Aaron Leopold, deputy director for Power for All. He stressed that remote communities require significantly less energy than a populated city.
“Education, especially at government level, is important in order to understand emerging technologies,” said Vicky Basson, chief executive officer for KES Energy Services Company. She added: “Decision-makers will need to decide on and plan the most applicable solution for their country, based on assessment and differentiation between areas.”
Renewable technologies pose vast benefits for impoverished communities, in terms of safety, health and education, while providing them the ability to sustain their communities.
Exploitation of technology should be avoided especially if the resources are not available. Basson added: “Intellectual property should be nationalised in order to improve developing technology.”
Arthur Hanna, senior managing director for Accenture, continued: “Despite much-needed investment, renewable technologies will need to be incorporated into off-grid solutions. A more workable structure will facilitate optimal usage.”
In terms of a decentralised system, Schäffler explained: “Battery systems charged with solar energy are gaining popularity for use in homes. Storage is a main component for off-grid usage, and will need to be able to compete with residential tariffs.”
Despite Africa’s abundance of resources, a large percentage of people have limited access to modern energy services. Africa needs to finance grassroots projects to encourage regional integration and involvement, as well as to address viable implementation with regard to competitive domestic tariffs on decentralised systems.
Demands for energy have also increased with the pace of change. Proactive optimisation is needed to address specific needs relevant to a macro-economic structure.
Schäffler noted: “Funding for renewable technologies is dependent on the layers of bureaucracy and, therefore, a paradigm shift needs to take place, with clear initiative for both customers and cost drivers.
“Much time has been wasted on improvisation without correct procedures in place. Funding needs to be localised with cohesive policy and resource alignment. We need to incorporate institutions for research and developmental integration.”
Brian Statham, conference chairman, also quoted United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, social equity and environmental sustainability.”
He added: “Governments must involve the private sector in planning and implementation, and, in turn, the private sector must realise its developmental goals, in addition to pure commercial objectives.”
Christoph Frei, secretary general for the World Energy Council, said: “Regional integration projects will play a crucial role as they bring down capital requirements by as much as 30 percent, as well as improvements in energy security, by combining supply schemes and increased resilience.”
The benefits of implementing green technology into our macroeconomic structure will provide a guaranteed abundance of sustainable energy, but the energy sector needs to embrace global technological and government support through role clarity, management, accountability and solid commitment towards a project plan with effective long-term execution.
Work has already begun on the 9th annual Africa Energy Indaba, which will be hosted at the Sandton Convention Centre on February 21 to 22, 2017.