Achieving a just, yet ambitious energy transition for Africa
Addressing Africa’s energy trilemma by creating pragmatic, immediate and future sustainable energy solutions for the world’s fastest-growing continent.
By Nadja Haakansson, Managing Director of Siemens Energy Africa
November 30, 2022
Like many other African energy decision-makers, I was at the COP27 conference to help plot the way forward for Africa’s energy transition. In the face of accelerating climate change, the war-fueled energy crisis and growing global economic headwinds, the ever-present energy trilemma of security, affordability and sustainability has never felt so acute.
The situation is all the more sobering if you view it against a few key facts. In Africa, the world’s fastest growing continent, around half its population - more than 600 million people - are without electricity access. While Africa accounts for less than 4% of global CO2 emissions, the continent is the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Africa needs an energy transition that is just, yet practical, and also ambitious. We need to ensure that developed countries do not enforce their decarbonization agendas on developing countries, and that developing countries get the support they need to facilitate the transitions they need.
Hydrocarbons as a transitional solution
We need to be pragmatic about Africa’s immediate energy future, because between now and the year 2040, Africa would need to invest more than $43 billion in the power sector each year to keep up with demand. I believe to get where we want to go, rather than simply aiming for net zero by 2050, we must find low-carbon to no-carbon roadmaps for the next 30-40 years that won’t create pockets of energy poverty in Africa.
Firstly, we need more interconnected grids in Africa that can solve our energy transmission problems, incorporating a mix of energy sources. This will not only expand energy access across the countries and the continent, but also enable the integration of more distributed energy sources like renewables.
We also need to modernize and repurpose older technologies, upskill the workforce, and embrace bridging technologies such as carbon capture as we transition away from coal, while we build capacity to adopt more renewable sources of energy.
Finally, to make this possible, we urgently need appropriate, fair and accessible financial frameworks for different African economies, tailored to their specific needs, to unlock the incredible untapped opportunities that already exist. Yes, Africa has a lot of sun and wind and water, and coastal hubs like Egypt, Morocco and South Africa are ideally positioned to produce clean fuels like green hydrogen, but I also believe hydrocarbons like natural gas are a critical transition fuel for Africa, serving as a vital baseload now, to enable energy access, but in the future blending then moving solely to more renewable energies like green hydrogen. In this way, unlike coal or oil power stations, natural gas power plants can avoid becoming stranded assets and be part of the energy transition solution.
Africa’s population is likely to double to 2.5 billion by 2050 and it could become a human disaster if we don’t address energy access with greater pragmatism and practicality. Access to energy encourages socioeconomic growth, improves efficiency, leverages digitalization, grows local industry, and encourages training and skills development.
Africa deserves stable, reliable, and affordable power for its hospitals, schools, farms, offices, internet and mobile networks, small businesses and more, just as much as any other part of the world. That is why short-term bridging technologies such as natural gas, while developing solutions based on hydrogen and derivatives, as well as carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies, all play a critical role in the energy roadmap.
Covering the cost of Africa’s green transition
Nine out of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa. These countries alone need about $600 billion in climate change support up until 2030, yet are only receiving roughly $18 billion a year toward this effort. By conservative estimates, the continent overall needs more than $1.6 trillion per year in climate financing in this decade for each country to meet its Paris commitments.
Governments alone cannot foot the bill. The private sector needs to come to the party too. We came to COP27 to build equitable global partnerships, to hold ourselves and each other accountable, and to discuss pragmatic solutions towards humanity’s shared energy and climate future. But let’s move on from talking now, and take action immediately. Climate change waits for no-one.