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Why Africa?

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

The IEA has said that economic development is not possible without an energy system that can support it, and that is why it turned its attention to the outlook for energy in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa is not the same as it was 20 years ago or even at the turn of the century, the economies there have, on average, grown more than those in any other region, with the exception of China and India. That growth will have many repercussions on the subcontinent’s development and energy use the IEA has said. But, despite a number of challenges, not least of all a global energy environment with persistently high oil prices, Africa has opportunities, including large renewables potential.

Resources and challenges

Almost 70% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa does not have access to electricity, which acts as a fundamental brake on development in much of the region. The governments the IEA speak with widely recognise that providing access to modern energy service must be a central component to their respective development plans, its importance matched by both the scale of the problem and the difficulties when trying to tackle it. The international community is also aware of how important energy is to development, as exemplified by the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative. The imperative to provide universal access will out the power sector at the forefront of efforts in the coming years, however, plans to expend links to the existing grid as well as by deploying increasingly innovative mini grid and off grid systems that exploit the abundant renewables resources. The IEA projects that 950 million people will be able to gain access to electricity by 2040, but that still leave over half a billion people without modern energy because of rapid population growth.

The IEA has said that reducing the reliance on solid biomass in sub-Saharan Africa will prove difficult, as at the moment it accounts for over 60% of total primary energy demand. Approximately 730 million Africans use these traditional fuels for cooking, often in poorly ventilated areas where the noxious fumes can damage health. The IEA believes that biomass will play a significant role in the African energy mix, and account fro approximately half of total primary energy demand in 2040 as consumers who grow wealthier use modern energy sources to supplement traditional forms rather than to supplant them. As a result, the IEA anticipate a scenario where consumption of all fuels, which includes bioenergy, oil, gas and renewables, rises, contributing to a near doubling of total primary energy demand by 2040.

Energy investment

The outlook shows that securing a brighter future for sub-Saharan Africa will require a higher level of regional cooperation, improved governance structures and institutions, and better resource management. These elements, if achieved, will help garner much higher levels of sustained investment than in the past. Between 2000 and 2013, two out of every three US dollars invested in sub-Saharan Africa went to produce energy for expor. In the IEA’s projections, this situation is reversed: energy investment rises rapidly to reach a cumulative US$ 3 trillion and, by 2040, two thirds of investments go towards providing energy to be consumed within the region.

If sub-Saharan Africa successfully charts this course, transforming its energy sector in a way that allows it to secure more reliable power for consumers and to extend access to the rural populations, it will bring the subcontinent dividends of increased growth and broader development.

Edited from press release by Claira Lloyd

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