Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Africa has just produced a report which estimates between $60 – $90 billion per year will be required for Africa’s green energy revolution.
Following high-level declarations at the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Conference in late 2015, there is a growing appetite for renewable energy in Africa. This is much-needed; the continent’s energy supplies are not meeting the needs and aspirations of its people. A better system will promote economic diversification, raise productivity, and improve the health and wellbeing of citizens.
Africa requires between $60 and $90 billion annually to address its energy shortfall, roughly quadruple 2014 investment levels. While fossil fuels, notably coal, oil and gas, continue to provide a signi cant quantity of energy – especially in South Africa – renewables need to play a greater role.
Africa has plentiful resources, from geothermal power in Kenya and Ethiopia to hydropower in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Solar and wind are especially promising, thanks to falling costs and resource abundance. From solar-powered hospitals in Lagos to wind farms in Lake Turkana, renewable energy is not just a pipe dream – it is a reality. Renewables can increase energy security, reduce energy import bills, and diversify and de-risk the energy mix. Through off-grid technologies, they can provide direct,affordable power to rural regions beyond the reach of the grid system.
But to harness renewables at scale, very significant infrastructure is needed: both core assets like wind and solar farms and transmission grids, as well as connective infrastructures, like roads to and from sites for transporting kit and manpower, or for bringing products, like solar-powered mobile phones, to market. This requires effective regulation, sufficient financing, appropriate technologies and smart business models.
IHS Towers, the African company which produced the report, appears to be a major African telecommunications success story. They are backed by major Western finance companies including Goldman Sachs, and Dutch and Singapore sovereign wealth funds.
In my opinion this report simply adds to the evidence that renewables are utterly unaffordable, even if they were practical from an engineering perspective. Unlike India’s $2.5 trillion dollar estimate, IFS Towers at least offers an instalment plan. But it seems doubtful cash strapped Western governments will ever be able to raise the money required to fulfil the report’s ambitions – and this is just the estimated price tag for Africa going green. No doubt though Western governments will foot the bill for yet more jetset climate summits, in lieu of doing anything practical, so everyone can discuss the issues.