Sustainable energy for Africa

Sustainable energy for Africa

Energy experts at the 2017 Africa Energy Indaba noted that sustainable energy is vital to the future of the African continent. Sustainable energy experts in the public and private sectors gathered at the World Energy Council’s (WEC’s) ninth annual regional event to discuss energy access, security and opportunities in Africa

According to the Afrobarometer report (entitled Powerless: Lack of grid access, unreliable electricity supply still plague majority of Africans) published in March 2016, a majority of Africans are still in the dark, either intermittently or constantly. Based on nearly 54 000 interviews in 36 African countries in 2014/15, just two out of five people have access to a reliable supply of energy throughout the day.

The report found that roughly 625-million people (68 percent of the population) in sub-Saharan Africa are without power and that the 48 countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa generate roughly the same amount of power as Spain.

Barry Bredenkamp, senior manager of energy efficiency and corporate communications at the South African National Energy Development Institute (Sanedi), said Africa accounts for 13 percent of the world population, but only four percent of the energy demand.

“Africa has more than enough sustainable energy resources to replace traditional carbon-intensive energy, but its countries are struggling to keep the lights on. This could be because the energy industry is a very much a political environment and revolves around policies that are established and implemented by governments,” said Bredenkamp.

Sebastian Noethlichs, founder and CEO of Nvision Energy, said it is difficult to sell his company’s solar panels in most African countries as the government policies and procedures require international companies to jump though many hoops.

Eugén Ranft, operations manager at Eaton Electric, said the political environment in Africa poses a big risk for investors and keeps renewable energy costs high, even though the market has become more competitive. “We need to align policies in such a way that political change doesn’t affect investment in renewable energy,” said Ranft.

Janek Winand, vice president of Siemans Wind Power, said manufacturers need to help investors and governments carry the risk. “Manufacturers need to get more involved in projects and help find funding, while carrying some of the risk for clients,” he said.

Noethlichs also noted that there are other reasons for the slow growth of renewable energy in Africa. “African countries don’t have much knowledge about renewable energy and are not yet comfortable with it. Governments and investors also don’t like investing in something from which they won’t see returns within three to four years,” said Noethlichs.

Winand added that his company has established programmes to help train the communities close to where its projects are based, so that they can operate the plants. Through the programmes governments are also mentored to implement renewable energy programmes more quickly. He believes other companies should do this, too, instead of getting angry with governments and other key role players.

Delegates at the Indaba agreed that there are many opportunities for renewable energy in Africa, but they were specifically very happy about the support that South African President Jacob Zuma showed the renewable energy sector in his State of the Nation Address on February 9.

This has made the South African Renewable Energy Council (Sarec) confident that the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) – which aims to put more renewable energy on the grid – will soon be back up to speed after being stalled since the beginning of 2016.

Monica Maduekwe, programme coordinator at the Economic Community of West African States Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, said the private sector needs to take into account the needs of end users – which are mostly people from rural and poor population groups.

“Companies can’t just push their own agendas. They need to listen to the users. They are living in conditions with no electricity, so they know what their needs are,” said Maduekwe.

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