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Neill_58630 Oct 27

A time of transition

A time of transition image
Powering Africa in 2022 and beyond: how technology, innovation and uncertainty will characterise energy development in the continent through the coming decade and beyond.
Africa’s power sector is likely to be characterised by increased innovation and ongoing uncertainty in the years ahead, as clean technologies start to displace traditional thermal energy. It creates an uneven future outlook, but the good news is that the funding is there for the right projects.

For policymakers, economic development remains priority number one - but not at all costs. The advent of more competitive renewable energy, and a pressing political agenda determined to get to grips with climate change, will steer overall development.

Yet some context is needed here. Africa’s power sector contributes less than 2% of global CO2 emissions, and South Africa accounts for a large proportion of that. Thus, in objective terms, global warming is not top of the agenda for most African states; economic and social development remains the number one goal.  

But, luckily, the least-cost power sources are now also the most environmentally sustainable, according to Professor Anton Eberhard of the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town. 

“Solar and wind energy, and geothermal in some countries, are the cheapest grid-connected sources of electricity. Solar PV offers an increasingly competitive option for mini-grids and off-grid applications.” 

The variability of solar and wind energy, however, needs to be complemented by flexible resources such as hydro, pumped storage and batteries, and some countries are continuing to invest in gas turbines. It is creating an increasingly fragmented infrastructure, incorporating diverse generation and multiple grid systems, both large and small.

Perhaps there are some certainties, though. “New coal power plants are unlikely to be financed,” says Eberhard. “And nuclear energy is mostly a pipe dream in Africa, with the exception of North and South Africa.

“Conventional nuclear reactors are too expensive and their scale is a poor fit for the small power systems of most sub-Saharan countries. Small modular nuclear reactors are not yet commercially available.”

Battery storage

In some ways, Africa now occupies a unique place in the world’s energy transition. Many countries have leapfrogged the development of conventional energy to focus almost exclusively on renewable energy. However, this itself can present its own problems, notes Corinne Duvnjak, counsel in the Clifford Chance international projects team in Paris.

“With renewable energy comes the associated challenges of intermittent renewable energy and the difficulty of integrating variable sources of electricity onto the grid,” she says. 

Read the full article on the African Review website here.