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During a panel discussion at the Global Energy Utilities Forum, part of Middle East Energy, experts and officials addressed the challenges facing African countries in meeting the electricity needs of their populations and the opportunities renewable resources offer to increase electrification rates
The African continent is facing a major challenge in meeting the energy needs of its people, with close to 600 million people without access to electricity. The number rose in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reversing some of the progress made in recent years.
During a panel discussion at the Global Energy Utilities Forum, part of Middle East Energy, experts and officials addressed the challenges facing African countries in meeting the electricity needs of their populations and the opportunities renewable resources offer to increase electrification rates.
One example is Nigeria, which is the most populated nation in the continent with over 200 million people and a GDP of over US$500 billion. According to A. D. Abubakar, Director of Renewables and Rural Access Department at Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Power, the Nigerian power sector is structured in a way that includes the Nigeria Power Policy and a roadmap, all of which aim to enhance the power generation, transmission, and distribution in the country.
“We have an installed capacity of about 13,000 MW and we can transmit about 7,000 MW and distribute 5,000 MW so there’s a lot of deficit considering our population,” he explained. "With all these policies in place, we have to generate 30 GW with a 30 percent share of renewable energy by 2030, so there’s ample opportunity for investment in the power sector.”
In the next 30 years, the country needs to invest US$600 billion into its power sector infrastructure, calling on investors to play a major role. “It’s a very good opportunity for the private sector to come in,” Abubakar said. “We are trying to attract investors into the power sector for the infrastructure and the energy transition to bring in renewable energy, and boost communities far away from the grid.”
Within that context, Ahmad Salihijo, Chief Executive Officer at the Rural Electrification Agency in Nigeria, spoke of the significance for his organisation to identify such communities within its database, and understand how it can continue to fund unelectrified Nigerians that have no power. “The budget in the country wouldn’t allow us to totally rely on it on a yearly basis to finance these projects because it’s not sustainable and it’s not enough,” he explained.
“So, in the last few years, we’ve been able to attract financing from international development partners, like the World Bank and the Africa Development Bank, which worked closely to come up with US$550 million of funds that went to private sector financing.”
As a result, developers are now being paid to electrify Nigeria, with subsidies reaching up to 60 percent. The agency is also designing programmes for the private sector through grants. So far, it managed to build a few mini grids to be able to continue to address this gap. “We’ve tried to identify opportunities for the private sector to come in and partner with the public sector to see how we are able to address this gap of unelectrification that we have in the country,” he added.
For Sowunmi Olabode II, from the Office of the Senate at Nigeria’s National Assembly, regulators are fundamentally needed in what is supposed to be a free market. For the long-term benefit of society, he said such rural areas should be developed, for a platform to be created to make them attractive. “That’s where regulators come in,” he said. “But every regulator needs to look at the dynamics of the region they are interested in because there is no one solution that fits all.”
He said every regulator has a responsibility to look at the dynamics of each area within their region and come up with a homegrown solution that will attract investors. “It’s not easy but it’s needed and, in doing this, people will be attracted to different places in Africa and investment will flow and we’ll get to the place we want to get to,” he added.
Kenya has dealt with similar issues to ensure such communities far from the grid receive power as part of the government’s plan for universal access to energy. According to Nicholas Maundu, Principal Engineer in Construction at the Rural Electrification and Renewable Corporation in Kenya, which is charged with the mandate of electrification and renewable energy development in the country, Kenya currently has around 72 percent of energy access in rural areas, with an aim to reach 100 percent by 2035.
“We put measures and one of them is working with partners through the World Bank and private sector development projects,” said Maundu. “We’ve encouraged the private sector to come in and identify sectors to develop mini grids.”
From its World Bank-funded projects, Kenya plans to grow 150 mini grids in arid areas of the country and around 380 facilities powered with the same programme, along with standalone systems to develop renewable energy. In water services, it has developed power stations, allowing most cities today to have access to clean water.
“We are encouraging the private sector to do desalination plants, especially in coastal areas,” he added. “There are many avenues where developers can come into the country.”
For Maged Mahmoud, Technical Director and Lead RE Advisor at the Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (RCREEE), North African countries, such as Egypt and Morocco, have a high percentage of accessibility to energy. He spoke of renewable energy as the way for economic growth and a tool for achieving it in a sustainable way, while preserving the climate, creating job opportunities and advancing different areas. “We aren’t that late, we can catch up,” he said.
“Many Sub-Saharan African countries suffer from low connection to electricity, which can improve the quality of life of citizens. We see the role of renewable energy in serving the community by improving health and agri-food, among other sectors, which will promote these countries.”
Egypt has embarked on an advanced programme in different domains. According to Mahmoud, its cornerstone is built on utility-scale projects, with more than 6,000 MW of renewable energy projects, including half of hydro and half of wind and solar.
“These are mostly carried out by the private sector, which is a real change that wasn’t in Egypt in the past,” he concluded. “Morocco also has an impressive programme for renewable energy in using utility-scale projects, with a target of 52 percent of its electricity to be renewable by 2035, and 42 percent for Egypt.”