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Four ways Africa can solve its energy gap

21 July 2016, 11:27Lameez Omarjee

Johannesburg – About 80% of the African population does not have access to power, even though the continent has the resources “bequeathed by nature” to generate power.

This is according to George Njenga, GE Power Steam Power Systems regional executive for sub-Saharan Africa, who was one of the speakers at the Power-Gen and DistribuTECH Africa 2016 conference, held in Sandton this week.

“Energy will contribute to the Africa rising story,” said Njenga.

Africa’s development and economic performance is linked to generation and access to affordable, sustainable and reliable power, he explained. “Africa requires a portfolio of different technology and fuel sources, an energy mix to solve the problem. This helps as a risk mitigation strategy,” he said.

Njenga shared solutions to the challenges contributing to Africa’s energy crisis:

1. Collaboration based on mutual respect between industries, business and governments.

“The gap of power is so large, no one can solve it alone,” Njenga told Fin24.

Cooperation and collaboration between countries is required to ensure the “free trade” of electricity across boundaries.

Collaboration within industries is also important. Companies recruited in the construction of Medupi and Kusile power stations had to work together with the common goal of solving a problem, it was not a competition between companies, he explained.

2. Combine base load and distributed power.

“Only 600 million Africans have access to power, and 200 million of them do not have reliable power,” said Njenga. As the rate of urbanisation increases, it places pressure on electricity infrastructure. Traditionally, there has been an over reliance on base load power in the form of hydropower, geothermal, gas, coal and diesel.

However, there is a disconnect between where the power is produced and where it is eventually delivered, explained Njenga. Transmission lines need to be constructed to get power where it is needed and this may take time.

Base load power should be accompanied by distributed power, which can be generated where it is needed.

Distributed power can be financed easily and can help as an emergency response in the case of a disaster, he explained.

3. Investment in projects

Electricity generation projects need to be “bankable”.

Projects need to be structured in a way so that risk involved is understood. This will enable lenders and investors to see the potential of a project and contribute the required funding.

It takes time to build capacity and to get people with the right experience involved in a project, said Njenga. Once a project is mature and well-established then it is a good time to look for long-term equity to sustain it.

4. Leverage power development to stimulate other industries

Governments need to take advantage of power generation to stimulate economies.

For example, the Medupi and Kusile power station projects were huge and required support from other goods and services industries.

“It is important to invest in the value chain to create a whole ecosystem of skills sets, small and medium enterprises and a supply chain into projects,” said Njenga.

- Fin24


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