A panel of speakers at the 2018 Africa Energy Forum, in Mauritius, on Wednesday, agreed that Ministers of energy in Africa and other stakeholders should focus on regional power integration, and what would work accordingly, rather than debating country-specific suitable energy resources and generation methods.
The panelists comprised independent power producer Globeleq East African business development head Christian Wright; energy project developer Access Power MD Vahid Futahi; Central African Republic State-owned power utility Enerca CEO Thierry-Patient Bendima; energy power source manufacturer Wärtsilä energy solutions manager Jyrki Leino; economic development programme New Partnership for Africa’s Development regional integration, infrastructure and trade programme head Symerre Grey-Johnson; and global association International Gas Union director Rafael Lázaro.
Grey-Johnson pointed out that more projects such as the Zambia–Tanzania–Kenya transmission line are needed to provide universal energy access, especially as Africa’s population is anticipated to double by 2050.
He further suggested that power pools be formed between Southern and Central African countries.
Wright, meanwhile, noted that States and project developers often think of megawatts, but not necessarily how they fit together in a diversified energy mix.
“Before regional integration, there is a need for increasing baseload and gas supplementing on the grid,” he said, as gas is the most effective short-term power access solution to supplement grid power.”
Futahi, however, stated that the cost of increasing baseload is mammoth. He added that $250-billion is needed to provide power for 80% of Africa’s population.
He believed reducing transmission losses was the first step towards sustainable and long-term energy access.
Lázaro said gas could contribute towards a sustainable environmental approach for energy, stating that “switching from coal to gas is the easiest way of reducing [a country’s] carbon footprint”.
He believes gas can match the increase in demand from a growing African population.
Leino, however, commented that Africa has a golden opportunity around introducing renewables because it does not have the burden of an existing energy fleet – ageing infrastructure that has become ineffective and troublesome to maintain – as the majority of African countries lack energy infrastructure.
Bendima argued that the decision around the energy mix for each country or region lies with international decision-makers, since they provide the funding, as well as the technology and solutions.
He said it is not as simple as picking an energy source out of the best comparable options, but rather that the energy mix will be influenced by international players.
Wright concluded that “we need to learn to walk, before we can learn to run,” in terms of system integration with regions and planning. He said that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach in any country, and it will take time to determine the best energy mix for Africa.
Other challenges affecting the energy mix decisions of African countries include improper planning on behalf of States.
“Energy has become a political issue; decisions are taken without clear planning, causing a great problem for utilities, since planning is necessary for economic sustainability,” said Bendima.
He added that if planning is done properly, it is often not realised when the next person in power takes over during an election. He said planning should be of such a nature that the following member of management can seamlessly integrate with it.