Africa faces trilemma in addressing energy gap

2nd March 2021 By: Tasneem Bulbulia - Creamer Media Reporter

In trying to bridge the energy gap on the continent, Africa faces a trilemma of balancing fossil fuels, poverty and climate change, but strides are being made in this regard, speakers noted during a panel discussion held as part of the virtual African Energy Indaba.

Africa House Market Access and Research director Duncan Bonnet said technological advancements over the past few years had led to dramatic development in the energy arena, and therefore, players in the sector needed to be cognisant of this, and things cannot be looked at merely from a historical perspective.

He noted that the ability to harness new technology in the sector would fundamentally change how stakeholders thought about the delivery of power, with a move away from large centralised power with typical long transmission networks, to more localised solutions.

Zimbabwean politician Fortune Chasi said the trilemma would persist for some time. He noted that the availability of power creates huge challenges, which exacerbates the climate change situation.

In terms of support for the move away from fossil fuels, he spoke from the perspective of his country of Zimbabwe. He noted that, broadly, while this had improved, with more companies pursuing renewable energy, financing was a hurdle.

He indicated that financial support was not evident, with this partly owing to historical issues in the country pertaining to sanctions and the like.

Speaking from the perspective of the Nigerian energy mix, World Energy Council Nigeria chairperson Professor Abubakar Sani Sambo noted that the country, despite being a major oil producer, has recognised the negative impact of continuous heavy use of oil and gas for the power and transport sector.

Therefore, he said, the country was pushing very hard to ensure that the carbon footprint for the future was moving toward net zero by 2050. He emphasised that this was being done gradually, so as not to disrupt the economy.

He said energy practitioners were advising government that owing to the energy transition globally, the demand for oil would fall, and therefore, the country should refocus on using oil for more liquefied natural gas production and pharmaceuticals, besides other.

He emphasised that this, too, had to be done gradually.

He also noted that government relied heavily on the income from oil sales, and was trying to address this by moving into other areas, such as considerable investment into agriculture.

Speaking from a South African perspective, Bonnet said the country was not handling the just energy transition as well as it could. He noted that part of this was that there were many different technologies and interest groups at play, such as renewables, fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

He noted that the parties were not all on the same page yet; however, there were small positive movements in the right direction, for example, more allocation for renewables and acceptance of independent power production, which was leading to a more sophisticated balance of energy in the country.

Alaric & Associates Renewable Energy & Energy Transition director Lamé Verre said there was a need to address basic energy accessibly rights, from cooking fuel to lighting.

She indicated that the continent could leverage the advancements of technology from the west, and take learnings from the banking and other sectors when thinking about technological solutions to addressing energy poverty on the continent.

Moreover, she emphasised the need to have the right polices from government agencies, as well as the proper infrastructure to support these energies.