Light up the darkness

Light up the darkness

The legendary reggae musician Bob Marley once sang: “Africa unite, unite for the benefit of your people, unite for it’s later than you think” … JACO DE KLERK discovered that these lyrics perfectly summarise this year’s Africa Energy Indaba.

The leading authorities on all things energy related gathered at the Sandton Convention Centre, in Johannesburg, from February 19 to 21, for the fifth annual Africa Energy Indaba. The theme this year, Solutions for Africa, held strong through the various plenary addresses and panel discussions during
the conference.

However, as the chairman of the South African National Energy Association and the conference Brian Statham eloquently states: “To sum the Indaba up is something of a challenge, because to try and summarise the event won’t do justice to what has happened over the three days.”

He adds that the quality of the discussions in the various panels and the interaction between the panel members and delegates exceeded all expectations. “And that has been the primary objective for us – to get the dialog happening, to get the thoughts surfacing, to get people engaged and debating on the energy issues – because that is what fosters innovation.”

And some of these innovations have been serving the continent for a while now, with the African Union’s (AU) flagship socio-economic programme New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) drumming up a lot of excitement at the Indaba.

Light up the darknessThe NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency encourages regional cooperation within Africa, aiming to assist African countries to enhance their cross border trade, share resources and build mutually beneficial infrastructure. NEPAD was adopted by various heads of states and governments during 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia.

“There were some alarming statistics presented to us through the NEPAD Agency’s discussion,” says Statham. “The expectation is that need for energy in Africa will grow at nine percent per annum over the next 20 years. That’s the need. That’s what is going to be required in order to achieve a movement towards a sustainable future on the continent.”

However, current planning provides a supply increase of only six percent per annum, at its most optimistic. “So there is a three percent gap already imminent in terms of what has to happen,” Statham explains. “That means that the 800 million Africans, who currently don’t have access to any form of commercial energy, will become 1,1 billion over the next 20 years, if we continue on the same trajectories that we’re currently on.”

Here’s where the NEPAD Agency’s encouragement of regional cooperation can save the day, as it would make Africa more attractive to investors. “We need to work hard at implementing regional alignment of legislation, regulations and policies if we are going to encourage the investment that we need so desperately,” Statham emphasises. “The reality is that, at this time, markets in individual countries are not large enough to attract the much needed support from large investors.”

But investors currently face huge amounts of red tape when the continent is approached regionally. “We find that investors have to face four, five or more separate jurisdictions with separate legislations, regulations and the burdens associated with that,” notes Statham. He adds that being compatible and complying with all these legal requirements makes the process too complicated and too expensive, in contrast to the investment opportunities in China, Brazil or other emerging markets.

“So we desperately need to have strong leadership from the politicians to work together in a regional sense to make Africa more attractive to these investors,” Statham points out. “It is also going to take a lot of courage and strong leadership from the private sector to come in and work in these areas of uncertainty.”

The South African Minister of Energy, Dipuo Peters, agrees that government and the private sector have to work together for a sustainable future for Africa. “It is my strong belief that for us to see development and growth in the continent, we need to paint a different picture of Africa from being the darkest continent, to a beacon of light and hope,” she says.

Light up the darknessShe adds that we can’t afford the luxury of favouring one form of energy technology over another as we need all of them, with each having a place in the energy mix – from renewable energy through to coal. “We have plans to continue using coal, with investments in cleaner coal technology. We need energy, and we need a reliable uninterrupted supply … coal is one of the ways we can do that. There won’t be sun at night and there won’t be a constant supply of wind, so where does that leave us as a country?”

Shale gas too has a part to play. The Department of Energy determined that a base-load generation capacity of 2 500 megawatts could be achieved and introduced by 2024 with coal fire generation. Power from shale gas is predicted to deliver 2 652 megawatts by 2025 and imported hydro power
2 609 megawatts. Other technologies will contribute about 465 megawatts to the national grid.

Peters points out that South Africa hasn’t abandoned its nuclear endeavours, with the country working feverishly to expand its nuclear power plants. “South Africa was in the process of finalising the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010-2030 when the Fukushima nuclear accident occurred. The IRP envisages 9 600 megawatts of additional nuclear capacity by 2030,” she explains.

“Since the Fukushima accident, all the safety assessments of nuclear installations are closely monitored by regulators. As part of the IRP implementation, the Department of Energy identified the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review document as a beneficial tool to aid the country. This will evaluate our readiness for the addition of the 9,6 gigawatts into the grid,” she adds.

South Africa was the first country, with an existing nuclear programme, to invite the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct an assessment of its plants. “Although we have 60 years of experience in nuclear, it doesn’t mean we have the confidence to say that we are clued up on everything that needs to be done,” says Peters. “That’s why we invited the IAEA to South Africa, to do an assessment and to tell us what we still have to do to make our plants safer and to conform to the protocols.”

Statham agrees with the Minister that, in the current African situation, one form of energy generation shouldn’t receive preference over another with all technologies having a place on the continent. “We have to find a way to stop the fighting between the various technology lobby groups, with one saying that its technology is better than another,” he adds. “At the end of the day, the market potential is bigger than any single technology can supply anyway.” 

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