Africa Energy Yearbook: Keeping the Green Transition on Track
African Business magazine’s Africa Energy Supplement contains highlights from this year’s Africa Energy Yearbook 2020/21. Many thanks are due to the authors and interviewees who have made time to provide fascinating insights and predictions during such a difficult period. The Covid-19 pandemic has, of course, affected every corner of the energy industry in Africa. Some of us have lost friends and colleagues to the virus, or suffered from its effects ourselves. Even if we have been lucky enough to maintain our health, long cherished projects have been delayed or cancelled, and remote working has become a way of life.
Uncertainty pervades our plans. One strong message from contributors to this year’s publication is that the resilience, innovation and cooperative spirit evident in the fight against Covid-19 can be harnessed to further the energy transition already under way across the continent. As we report, the energy transition and improved electricity access are also seen as a vital part of the solution to future health crises. That transformation will provide reliable power to hospitals and health centres and also help make people healthier in general.
Cleaner air, due to a reduction in polluting power generation and the greater uptake in clean cooking techniques, leads to a host of health benefits, not least of which is a reduction in the respiratory illnesses and other conditions that have proved to exacerbate the symptoms of Covid-19.
GETTING BACK ON TRACK
For energy sector professionals, the short-term future is likely to be spent getting projects back on track, reconvening postponed discussions and coaxing investors back out of their shells. But beyond that, the goal of ensuring all Africans have access to electricity, produced sustainably, remains firmly in place. The pandemic has sapped the financial resources of governments and investors alike, but contributors say this is no time to abandon the drive towards greater use of renewable energy. The effects of the pandemic may occupy us now, but climate change may prove to be the bigger long-term threat.
The global climate change process has been disrupted by the postponement of the November 2020 UN-backed meeting in Glasgow and more limited engagement by the US government. But 2021 should see momentum gathering again in a process in which African leaders are closely involved.
Putting the investment in place to scale up clean energy is going to be a Herculean task. The International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that building capacity to enable Africa to meet around a quarter of its energy needs from indigenous and clean renewable energy by 2030 would require an average annual investment of $70bn. As we report, developers have been finding it easier to secure investment for smaller-scale projects, rather than mega projects. But the growth of the independent power provider (IPP) sector in South Africa, Nigeria and elsewhere shows the potential for private sector involvement across the continent, if financing channels can be kept open and fears over the uncertain operating environment in some countries can be overcome. Maintaining the momentum behind Africa’s energy transition in a world recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic will be a challenging task. But, as these highlights from the Africa Energy Yearbook 2020/21 show, there is no shortage of commitment to the cause from Africans, their governments and their partners, and no shortage of ideas on how to make it happen.
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