Emerging from the closing panel at the PowerGen Africa conference is a strong new message – a different approach is needed to unlock 100% electricity access across Africa.
There was no more time for discussions, no more time for political ramblings and no more time to rely on the traditional models that had managed to light up the continent so far, a panel of speakers discussing the ‘Vision of Africa’s Energy Future’ agreed on Thursday.
Some movement is being seen, with several conference sessions over the last three days highlighting several successful pilot projects, case studies and expansion projects.
However, while many boxes have been ticked and progress is being made, more than 600-million Africans still remain without electricity.
“We have to change the gear. The 650-million figure is not moving – something is wrong,” South African Presidency energy adviser Silas Zimu told delegates during the closing session.
“If there is any continent that still has to be developed that can help the whole world, it’s Africa. But it cannot be developed if it does not have electricity,” he said.
He believed that distributed power, for example, could be the answer in light of South Africa’s own previous challenges with load-shedding.
He explained that it was a drastically different environment in South Africa, compared with 1992, when "energy future discussions" had started.
“People are aware the term monopoly means nothing anymore,” Zimu commented, highlighting the fear people would go off grid and no longer rely on the national grid, effectively shaving off 70% of Eskom's revenue.
However, government needed to strategically deploy distributed power plans, ensuring that State-owned power utility Eskom and municipalities take distributed generation to the customer and link this to current rates and taxes for sustainability.
“If things go as they are going, we won’t have an Eskom in 20 years.”
“An aggressive approach is required. We can no longer rely on the traditional approach,” added Botswana Power Corporation CEO Stefan Schwarzfischer.
The Botswana State utility, previously plagued with serious challenges and hampered by extensive areas that are still not electrified, had made some progress in the past few years. Botswana is currently deeply interconnected and reliant on other countries for power.
The country is taking centralised and decentralised routes as it progresses its energy plans.
“Technology is not the issue. We have all the technology we need to develop [energy in] Southern Africa,” he explained, explaining that Botswana had failed in the past owing to its problematic business model.
“We need to turn that around.”
Recently some 34 rural villages had been electrified, with another 60 under review for electrification by year-end.
Schwarzfischer also pointed to several pilot projects involving multiple remote villages that find “no use” in connecting to the national grid, which has seen a tender for solar-based solutions piloted at 20 villages and which is expected to be concluded in 2018.
One village has been earmarked to become Botswana’s first green village, ridding the region of excessive diesel use and introducing solar energy.
Another 12 villages had been identified to be equipped with solar for decentralised power supply.
The country was also reviewing possibilities for energy storage, as well as for rolling out other projects, including a 100 MW solar power plant.