To Fight Energy Poverty, Africa Embraces Both Renewable and Non-renewable Energy

LUSAKA, Zambia — The African Development Bank (AfDB) has a soft spot for renewable energy in Africa, but its push for energy efficiency in a new ten-year plan embraces a controversial approach — all sources of energy are acceptable.

The New Deal on Energy for Africa, which runs from 2016 to 2025, is impartial to the source of energy or technology.

The plan says it will let countries develop their resource strengths in renewable and non-renewable resources.

Akinwumi Adesina, AfDB bank president told delegates gathered for the 51st AfDB annual meeting on climate change and energy, held in Lusaka, Zambia, from May 23- 27, that the idea was to unlock Africa’s energy potential and eventually move to low carbon energy.

Adesina said the bank will invest $12 billion in the next five years and US$50 billion will be sought from the public and private finances for the plan.

The president said that apart from giving the money to initiatives on energy in Africa the bank will support African governments in strengthening their energy policies which are impeding growth in the sector.

AfDB’s optimism to raise funds stems from managing to raise a total US$22.5 billion in 2014 alone for the energy sector.

Image: A delegate charges his phone at a solar power station at Mulungushi International Conference Centre during the AfDb meeting. Credit Munyaradzi Makoni

Africa’s Energy Ambitions

According to the World Energy Outlook 2015, 16 percent of the world’s population has no access to electricity. Power consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest amongst all continents.

The AfDB makes an economic case for Africa. It says power outages for companies in Tanzania and Ghana have led to a loss of 15 percent in the value of sales.

Africa’s third largest economy, South Africa, slowed down in recent years due to load shedding. Africa is said to have 600 million people without electricity.

The Brighter Africa report by the World Bank says universal access by 2025 means connecting 200 million households, nearly doubling grid generation and tripling the use of clean energy cook stoves.

The new plan offers to increase grid generation by 160 GW on the continent by 2025. About 75 million off-grid connections are expected during the same period. The target is to increase access to clean cooking technology for 130 million households.

The New Deal

The plan to improve energy efficiency and provision won support of stakeholders, but how to get this energy has roused different opinions.

Former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, said that in order for Africa to get energy, it must use whatever resources it has.

“I will not keep environment clean at the expense of life in Africa. We in Africa, we should use what we have to generate power for our people,” Obasanjo said, adding, “if we add a little bit to the pollution, we are all going to be the cleaners.”

Mary Robinson, the former Irish Minister and UN special envoy on climate change said, in her view, it was not advisable for African leaders to pursue fossil fuels.

Robinson said the argument should be how to secure our future.

She said African leaders should not see climate finance as development aid; instead, they must use their collective voice to argue on poverty reduction as a development issue.

Benson Ireri, senior advocacy policy officer for climate change and sustainable agriculture for Christian Aid in Africa said that sources of renewable energy in Africa are immense, and if harnessed, they will provide the full amount of energy that Africa needs.

“This approach of including fossil fuels to power industrialization in Africa is environmentally unsustainable,” Ireri told Renewable Energy World, adding that this will simply make Africa the next biggest emitter.

“Two wrongs will never make a right; we can’t afford to chart this path just because the western world did it,” Ireri said.

Adesina said that to industrialize, Africa needs baseload power, which could not be attained easily from green energy.

He said industrialization would create jobs, fight poverty and stop youths dying in the ocean looking for better opportunities in Europe.

For Alex Rugamba, AfDB director for energy, environment and climate change, the target might appear daunting, but there were reasons for setting Africa’s ambitions high.

Countries like Morocco, Kenya and South African have shown the way with their energy generation projects.

He said the new deal on energy takes a holistic view. Different countries will pursue different avenues to develop their energy requirements.

“The share of clean energy is in the mix of what is going to increase, and beyond 2025, it will increase even further,” he said, adding that it will be a careful balancing act.

Pius Kasolo, a Zambian businessman, sees the new plan as an opportunity to invest more in solar and hydro energy.

“We hope we will get funding to expand our energy projects,” Kasolo told Renewable Energy World.

Power for All, a global campaign of private companies and NGOs, supports the prioritization of energy access by the AfDB as a huge step in the right direction, but only if it guarantees the required funding and access to that funding in a timely fashion.

“The AfDB, like other development banks, is historically an institution focused on big infrastructure, but times have changed and the real solution for developing energy infrastructure in rural Africa where the more than 600 million unelectrified currently live is distributed solutions, like mini-grids and roof-top solar,” Aaron Leopold, the deputy director of advocacy for Power for All, said in an interview.

Leopold said speed would be the key if universal energy access by 2025 — which is the AfDB’s stated goal — is to be achieved.

The World Bank’s internal audit says the average power plant takes nine years to complete.

“The math, both in terms of time to access and money required, doesn’t work with a one-size-fits-all, business-as-usual lending approach,” Leopold said. “If it did, we wouldn’t be where we are today, with more than 600 million powerless Africans.”

He said currently many of the decision makers at the national level in Africa and in development institutions are choosing a centralized grid for their people, which Power for All saw as ineffective.

“Right now governments and companies looking for energy access funding have to navigate far too many institutions, methods, requirements and procedures to get financing, which creates a huge barrier to scale,” he said.

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Munyaradzi Makoni is a freelance journalist with an interest in climate change issues based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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