Africa, the future great world power in renewable energies

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Africa's ability to develop renewable energies and pave the way for greater use is increasingly evident. Of the most vulnerable to climate change, the African continent would take enormous risks by depriving itself of this opportunity. This capacity and risks have been extensively discussed and discussed during energy day held at the African Development Bank Pavilion during the COP24 in Poland.

In order to meet the challenge of development and climate change, Africa can count on a strong renewable energy potential. Some countries have understood that they are multiplying the projects to exploit it.

Despite the announcement effects that promise the electrification of Africa tomorrow, the continent remains largely immersed in the dark. With nearly one billion inhabitants, this represents 13% of the world's population but only 4% of energy production. So much so that 600 million Africans still do not have access to electricity and that this number is likely to increase as a result of population growth, reinforcing the effects of ill-development.

If the electricity production offered by the traditional plants is progressing slowly but steadily, the alternative models relying on small decentralised structures (mini-networks, domestic solar systems…) now appear essential to address the challenge of universal access to electricity in Africa. However, the continent's ability to develop these local structures today is hampered by the lack of funding.

Still untapped potential

Yet the continent has a huge renewable energy potential, still largely untapped. "Of course, Africa is plural. Some countries, including Morocco for solar, Kenya for geothermal energy or Ethiopia for dams, are already well advanced when others, more fragile, such as Mali or Niger, are less endowed even if they progress rapidly, "Christian de Gromard of the French Development Agency (AFD). "But if you look wide, the continent has everything you need in natural resources – solar, hydro, geothermal, wind or biomass – to meet the challenge," he says.

A diagnosis confirmed by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) which estimates that the installed capacity of Africa, currently 34 gigawatts (GW), could reach 300 GW in 2030, level required for universal access on across the continent.

Still problematic funding

At a session on "Unlocking commercial financing for small-scale renewable energy production in Africa", the role of the energy inclusion facility (EIF), a financial platform for borrowing sponsored by the Bank and fueled by 500 million million for the purpose of producing small-scale renewable energies, was highlighted. Objective of this facility: to provide small-scale projects and off-grid facilities with first-line borrowing and mezzanine credit financing.

The session also gave an opportunity for a panel of speakers to share information on the desert to power initiative, which aims to exploit solar energy in 11 Sahel countries to build one of the largest solar projects in the world.

Utopian? The dramatic progression of solar photovoltaic on the continent shows the opposite. The decrease in equipment and installation costs has allowed Africa to increase its capacity by 800 megawatts (MW) in 2014 and again in 2015. "With the right accompanying policies, this capacity could reach more than 70 GW in 2030," says Irena.

"But the difficult access to credit and finance remains a major obstacle. For renewable energies, it is cheaper, provided you invest in the duration, depreciation being on 20 to 50 years depending on the size and nature of the projects, says Christian de Gromard.

To attract private money, the commitment of Governments and international donors is therefore essential. Moreover, since the COP21 in Paris, the State action plans are multiplying, in the image of the "African renewable energy initiative", launched in 2015, which aims at the installation of 10 GW of renewable energies on the continent by 2020. Supported by ten donors – including France – at a level of EUR 9 billion, the initiative now enters the implementation phase.

Reconciling development and climate change

"But apart from this strategy of the big projects decided from above, which hardly to produce concrete results, there is a very fruitful movement, coming from the bottom of the society, to invent a new energy model. A model that is not based on the development of large integrated networks but on off-grid solutions, in the dimensions of a village or neighbourhood, more adapted to African realities, says economist Jean-Joseph Boillot.

Will Africa manage to reconcile development and climate challenge by focusing on renewable energies? "They can participate, but a 100% renewable solution is not reasonable, no more in Africa than elsewhere," says Jean-Pierre Favennec, of the IFP new energies. The evidence is that none of the countries on the continent that have significantly improved their electricity generation – such as Ghana, Senegal or Côte d'Ivoire – have been able to do so by completely depriving themselves of fossil fuels, including gas-fired power plants. »

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► The share of electricity of renewable origin

African continent: 50% renewable (largely biomass), 50% fossil energy (data 2015). 50% of the population still lives without electricity.

OECD country: 25.9% renewable, 17.8% nuclear, 58.7% fossil fuels (data 2017)

France: 17.8% renewable, 71.5% nuclear, 11.9% fossil fuels (data 2017)

► Global CO2 emissions are still on the rise.

They reached a historical level of 53.5 gigatonnes (GT) CO2 equivalent in 2017, i.e. 0.7 gt more than in 2016, stresses UNEP. Following the current trend, emissions will reach 59Gt in 2030, according to UNEP.

To limit warming to 2 °c, it would be necessary to emit a maximum of 40 gt CO2e in 2030, and 24 gt for 1.5 °.

Moctar FICOU/VivAfrik

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