Africa seeks more funding to move away from dirty energy

Participants during a panel discussion at the Middle East Energy conference in Dubai on March 7. [Peter Theuri, Standard]

As Africa inches closer to 100 per cent clean energy, the remaining steps require considerable financing through public-private partnerships, industry executives have said.

They say the continent needs a rethink in the generation and storage of power, including automation of systems, alongside regional integration to harness its numerous untapped renewable energy sources.

Kenya Power’s general manager for network management Charles Mwaura says the country’s energy is 90 per cent clean and fully clean during off-peak hours.

But it will take further public-private sector collaboration to unleash the full potential of clean energy, he says. “Storage of power, which remains an exciting opportunity for investors, smart grid installations, and harmonisation of standards will enable Africa to achieve clean energy and ensure every home is connected to power,” he said during the Middle East Energy forum in Dubai on March 7-9, 2023.

A whopping 74 per cent of people without access to electricity in the world are from Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Even then, only two per cent of global investments in energy come to Africa.

But new developments, such as UAE-based renewable energy company Masdar’s signing of agreements with Angola, Uganda and Zambia to develop renewable energy projects with a combined capacity of up to five (5) gigawatts (GW) are helping increase energy production in the continent.

French fund manager RGreen Invest and investment advisor Echosys Invest also set up the Afrigreen Debt Impact Fund, raising $87.5 million (Sh11.2 billion) to be used to finance on-and off-grid solar power plants for small and medium-sized commercial and industrial consumers in Africa.

Connecting East Africa to one grid, which is already happening as Kenya Electricity Transmission Company, spreads its tentacles in the region, completing 96 per cent of high voltage transmission lines in Tanzania alongside other regional deals, and automation, which will lead to more clean energy, will see Africa “help the world reduce carbon emissions,” said the firm’s Corporate Communications Manager Raphael Mworia. The three-day Middle East Energy 2023, organised by Informa Markets, discussed smart solutions, renewable and clean energy, critical and backup power, transmission and distribution, and energy consumption and management.

It attracted over 800 exhibitors and had three conferences.

Sule Abdulaziz, chairman of the executive board of the West African Power Pool (WAPP) and managing director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria, also said inadequate funding, amid Africa’s many competing needs, condemns the continent to the insufficient power supply, as population growth and demand for power outpace new power generation projects.

“A lot of solar projects are coming on but you cannot satisfy all Africans. You just have to keep on trying,” he said. “We have to think of other ways such as signing agreements with investors with additional incentives so we can speed up generation.” A world seeking decarbonisation met at Cop27 in Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh in November last year to discuss energy transition on the back of a struggle to stick to the agreements of Cop26 in Glasgow in 2021. And while Africa was supposed to authoritatively send a warning to net polluters, little was gained,” said Nicolas Daher, the lead energy analyst at The Economist Intelligence.

Worst Consequences

Countries that contribute least to pollution often suffer the worst consequences of climate change making the conference in Africa more important, with the continent being one of the worst affected by climate change.

“The results of Cop27 were disappointing. There was no strict resolution reached,” Daher said at the Dubai forum. “The debate shifted from phasing off fossil fuels to phasing them down.”

Developing countries need “more leaders” in this debate as fossil fuel use continues to be supported by the market with demand set to increase in the next 10 years, thus more pollution, he said.

Daher said the world is focused on energy security at the expense of energy transition and the situation could get worse as China’s coal demand is set to peak in 2028, according to the EIU. “Oil prices will remain elevated in 2023 and will approach $90 (Sh10,800) a barrel. There is increased investment in fossil fuel infrastructure,” he said.

But renewable energy, he said, continues to proliferate, with consumption of non-hydro renewables expected to grow 10 per cent in the Middle East. Global solar power generation installed capacity will double from 1,142GW to 2,285GW in the decade as this and wind power generation both double.

But solar, which is cheaper and more readily available than wind, could grow at a higher rate.

Nuclear power capacity is also expanding. Investments in renewable energy globally increased by nine per cent year-on-year, the 2022 BloombergNEF report indicated, reaching an all-time high in 2021.

Currently, EIU data shows, fossil fuels represent 98 per cent of total energy capacity in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Energy demand growth in the region will be the second fastest in the world at 1.8 per cent per year after Asia’s two per cent per year. “The region is thus facing a double challenge of decarbonising while meeting fast-growing demand,” said Mr Daher.

Kenyan officials say enriching the energy mix, developing of uniform standards and having common technologies will ease the energy transition in Africa. Nigeria is targeting 10GW of renewable energy by 2030, as it aims to go 30 per cent clean.

KPLC’s Mwaura said Kenya should “rethink focus on solar and battery storage” with power generation and net metering plans.

“In transmission, when there is the generation within load centres, we minimise technical losses. Overall, to the customer, there is more stability and reliability in terms of supply and even if you don’t have grid power, you will have storage systems,” he said.

Power producers

He said incentivising and encouraging investors to build in Kenya will be more beneficial than having solutions constantly sought elsewhere.

While defending independent power producers (IPPs) who have faced public backlash recently, Mwaura said comparison of their rates to those of KenGen would be unrealistic as for some of KenGen’s production plants “the loan was amortised long ago”. 

He also dismissed allegations that Kenya Power has grown into a monopoly that needs dismantling.

“And thus when you combine units from such projects with ones being generated today - under loans and all - the average becomes less than that of private companies.”

There have been complaints that a lot of electricity was being procured from the costly IPPs.

Mwaura, however, said their contractual agreements were signed on the back of a need to complement KenGen’s production.

He said Kenya Power should maintain 15 to 20 per cent spare capacity. “Power development plans are made depending on forecasts of the economic trajectory, thus power demand and therefore consideration for what sources of power will be cheap and sustainable,” he said.

 He said any other entrant in the market will be regulated quite the same way, and that they must buy and sell at a regulated price and make controlled margins.

Climate diplomacy

And with less commercial theft of power, which leads to losses, the grid would be more stable, he says.

Energy industry leaders believe Cop28 - to be held in Dubai - provides huge potential to lead on climate diplomacy, a chance that might have been missed in the previous Cop.

Abhay Bhargava, the vice president for Energy and Environment, Industrial Practice at Frost and Sullivan MEASA said there is a lot happening in carving down demand for fossil fuels, creating more opportunities for private players.

“Electricity consumption is going up by between seven and 10 per cent due to electric vehicles (EVs). Further incentivising and regulation of the sector will shore up demand,” he said. “We need to look at EVs as an asset from a utility point, with the ability to charge from and discharge onto the grid.”

Ammar Moussi, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, said the world’s energy security is at risk and that safe energy transition should be a priority, adding that “we have to step over the business to think about the future”.

“Electric vehicles will change how utility people exist, but this will happen mostly in developed countries and not at once,” he said. Otmane Benamar, the chief technology officer at GE Gas Power, said the transition has to be done “while maintaining the reliability with power.”

“In the short-term, we can have standalone, modern controls that can improve efficiency and reduce the cost of equipment and lower carbon emissions,” he said.

“In the medium term, a coal to natural gas transition, with decarbonised energy the future.”

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