Almost half of Africans without access to electricity today live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, a new report by Paris-based International Energy Association (IEA) has said while calling for new investments to ramp up energy access in Africa.
Of these, only Ethiopia and Nigeria made progress in reducing the number of people without access between 2015 and 2019 – the small rebound seen in sub-Saharan Africa saw about 10 million able to access power even as the pandemic roiled plans for new projects. However, the improved electricity access in Nigeria has not translated to supply for many.
According to the IEA report, more than 25 million more people in Africa are living without electricity today compared with before the pandemic.
The report said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had sent food, energy and other commodity prices soaring, increasing the strains on African economies already hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The overlapping crises are affecting many parts of Africa’s energy systems, including reversing positive trends in improving access to modern energy, the report said.
At the same time, Africa is also already facing more severe effects from climate change than most other parts of the world – including massive droughts – despite bearing the least responsibility for the problem.
Despite these challenges, the report finds that the global clean energy transition holds new promise for Africa’s economic and social development, with solar, other renewables and emerging areas such as critical minerals and green hydrogen offering strong growth potential if managed well.
“Africa has had the raw end of the deal from the fossil fuel-based economy, receiving the smallest benefits and the biggest drawbacks, as underlined by the current energy crisis,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA executive director.
“The new global energy economy that is emerging offers a more hopeful future for Africa, with huge potential for solar and other renewables to power its development – and new industrial opportunities in critical minerals and green hydrogen,” he said.
Birol said the immediate and absolute priority for Africa and the international community is to bring modern and affordable energy to all Africans.
“Our new report shows this can be achieved by the end of this decade through annual investment of $25 billion, the same amount needed to build just one new LNG terminal a year,” he said.
“It is morally unacceptable that the ongoing injustice of energy poverty in Africa isn’t being resolved when it is so clearly well within our means to do so.”
The IEA’s Africa Energy Outlook 2022 explores a Sustainable Africa Scenario in which all African energy-related development goals are achieved on time and in full. This includes universal access to modern energy services by 2030 and the full implementation of all African climate pledges.
The report said that with demand for energy services in Africa set to grow rapidly, ensuring affordability is an urgent priority. But for this to happen, it argues that increased energy efficiency is essential since it reduces fuel imports, eases strains on existing infrastructure and keeps consumer bills affordable.
The report envisages expansion and improvement of electricity grids powered increasingly by renewables to provide the backbone of Africa’s new energy systems.
Africa is home to 60 percent of the best solar resources worldwide, but it currently holds only 1 percent of solar PV capacity. Many grids in the continent are powered by fossil fuels and in some like in Nigeria, the grid is unstable, old and in need of overhauling.
The IEA believes that with solar being the cheapest source of power in many parts of Africa, solar is set to outcompete all other sources continent-wide by 2030 and could open up more energy access.
Renewables – including solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal – account for over 80 percent of new power generation capacity added by 2030 in the Sustainable Africa Scenario.
While renewables are the driving force for Africa’s electricity sector this decade, the continent’s industrialisation relies in part on expanding natural gas use. More than 5,000 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas resources have been discovered to date in Africa that have not yet been approved for development.
These resources could provide an additional 90bcm of gas a year by 2030, which may well be vital for Africa’s domestic fertiliser, steel, cement and water desalination industries.
Cumulative CO2 emissions from the use of these gas resources over the next 30 years would be around 10 billion tonnes. If these emissions were added to Africa’s cumulative total today, they would bring its share of global emissions to a mere 3.5 percent, the report said.
Africa’s vast resources of minerals that are critical for multiple clean energy technologies are set to create new export markets but need to be managed well, with Africa’s revenues from critical mineral exports set to more than double by 2030.
Today’s crippling spikes in energy prices underscore the urgency and the benefits for African countries of accelerating the scale up of cheaper and cleaner sources of energy, says the IEA. Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the world’s energy-related CO2 emissions to date and has the lowest emissions per capita of any region.
Increased international ambitions for cutting emissions are helping set a new course for the global energy sector amid declining clean technology costs and shifting global investment patterns and African countries are poised to benefit from these trends and attract increasing flows of climate finance, the report said.
Achieving Africa’s energy and climate goals means more than doubling energy investment this decade. This would take it over $190 billion each year from 2026 to 2030, with two-thirds going to clean energy, the IEA estimates.
“Multilateral development banks must take urgent action to increase financial flows to Africa for both developing its energy sector and adapting to climate change,” said Birol. “The continent’s energy future requires stronger efforts on the ground that are backed by global support. The COP27 Climate Change Conference in Egypt in late 2022 provides a crucial platform for African leaders to set the agenda for the coming years. This decade is critical not only for global climate action but also for the foundational investments that will allow Africa – home to the world’s youngest population – to flourish in the decades to come.”