The global energy power of tomorrow

A drastic improvement in international cooperation is needed if we are to have any chance of meeting the challenging targets needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

While Europe works well together, there is a global need to focus on one of the largest landmasses in the world. As the hottest continent in the world, Africa has enormous challenges to overcome. Africa is already facing more severe impacts from climate change than many other parts of the world, despite having far less responsibility.

But the size of the continent, along with guaranteed sunshine and thousands of kilometers of coastline, means Africa has the energy resources to drive the big change it – and the world – needs in the years ahead.

With COP27 on its way to Sharm El-Sheikh in November, the world’s attention is about to turn to Africa. Without Africa on the team, there will be no solution to the global climate crisis.

A sustainable path for Africa

The recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report on sustainable energy in Africa presents a ‘Sustainable Africa Scenario’ in which Africans will have universal access to affordable electricity by 2030.

However, the report states that achieving these goals would be a “formidable undertaking”. At the time of writing, around 600 million people do not have access to electricity, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Africa makes great use of biomass primarily for cooking on highly inefficient stoves. This causes many premature deaths due to the inhalation of unhealthy substances in the smoke. Achieving universal access to clean cooking fuels and technologies by 2030 requires that at least 130 million people stop using dirty cooking fuels each year, according to the IEA report.

To have any chance of achieving a sustainable future, African countries must take the lead with clear strategies and policies. But the report also made a compelling case for international institutions to “strengthen their commitment to significantly increase their levels of support.”

Africa’s energy potential

From a global perspective, there are vast untapped sustainable energy resources in Africa. The continent is home to around 60% of potential solar resources, but only 1% of installed solar PV capacity is in Africa. In the few places where photovoltaic solar energy is installed, it is usually the cheapest source of energy.

In addition to domestic use, Africa has a great opportunity to export excess solar energy in the form of hydrogen. The possibility of producing hydrogen from solar energy and creating ‘hydrogen corridors’ by pipeline and ship to Europe across the Mediterranean is a win-win situation for both Africa and Europe.

Maps showing promising areas in Africa for cheap hydrogen production (less than US$2/kg) show a potential production of about 5,000 Mton per year. This is equivalent to global energy use today and about 60 times the current global production of hydrogen.

In addition, related ammonia production can provide zero-emission transport. It is also great for making fertilizer, which is much needed to boost agriculture and therefore food production in Africa.

Supporting Africa on the path to sustainability

Of course, the elephant in the room is the long and dark story of the world’s exploration of Africa and its resources. The IEA makes a compelling case for involving European money, but a true partnership approach with African countries taking the lead is the only possible way to succeed. The investment requirements are not astronomical, but it takes time to build the necessary bonds, trust and business models.

The first signs are positive. So far, 12 African countries representing more than 40% of the continent’s CO2 emissions have committed to global ‘net zero by 2050’ targets.

The goal of universal access to modern energy requires investments of US$ 25 billion per year. That’s a huge number at first glance, but it’s actually just 1% of global energy investment today. But this investment alone will not be enough. It must be supported by sustainable business models that present acceptable risk, fair revenue-sharing models and an acceptance of the urgent need for greater international cooperation.

This also requires a massive increase in cooperative actions in capacity building and knowledge sharing. Such development will rely on strong institutions and knowledge adapted to local conditions in Africa.

Europe must reach out to increase cooperation and knowledge building with African countries to an extent that currently does not exist. The most obvious place for this to happen is at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh in November.

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