What’s the future of Africa’s energy projects?

Lee Mwiti
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First, the bad news: Africa is still queuing to order up the fossil fuel power plants, with nearly eight in every 10 mega projects currently in the pipeline run either on oil, gas or coal.

The somewhat better news: of Africa’s largest 64 power projects, both commissioned and in planning, renewables form more than half, but just barely, at 51.7%.

The good news: looking at the positioning of the mega projects, a huge swathe of Africa remains untapped, a “black hole” of sorts that presents huge opportunities for investors seeking new energy projects.

This data is gleaned from the Africa-EU energy partnership (AEEP), which was created in 2007 at a summit of African and European leaders in Lisbon and who last met in 2014. At inception the project set out ambitious targets, which it has now scaled down to more achievable targets with a delivery period of 2020.

Towards this, it maintains a real-time database that is one of the clearest attempts yet to remove the opacity that generally surrounds African energy, which have in recent years attracted billions of dollars in financing, and focuses on the largest projects, the smallest of which is Sudan’s Merowe, with has a capacity of 1.3 Gigawatts (Gw).

The AEEP says it believes it has some of the best available data on the continent’s energy industry, with over 2,700 generation and transmission projects on its books, but admits limitations in collation still remain significant.

Far and away the planned $80-billion Grand Inga project in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest, with a planned capacity of 40-50Gw, which would be at least six times the size of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance dam. Hydro power alone is in the next six years projected to add 25,530Megawatts (25.53Gw) to the continent’s installed capacity.

With oil and coal taking a beating by climate change advocates, nearly all of South Africa’s biggest power projects run on fossil fuels, while the country is host to the only functional nuclear plant on the continent, Koeberg.

But notable are the huge swathes across the Sahel where there is no fortune-changing project on the ground or even in planning. Niger, Mali, Chad and Mauritania would feasibly be attractive to large-scale wind and solar projects—in the two years to 2012 just 1.19Gw of wind capacity exists on the continent, but could add up 3.49Gw by 2020. Solar is even lower—in 2012 capacity was just 0.12Gw, with a 0.5Gw target set over the next five years by the AEEP.

Apart from Nigeria and Ghana, which between them account for all the big energy projects identified in the database at 10.3Gw, the rest of West Africa is a blank canvas for mega power investment.

Of the 176.4Gw the 64 giant projects shown represent, the majority are in southern Africa (72.1Gw), while Central Africa has 44.9Gw of capacity, both in service and planned. Eastern Africa has 25.8Gw, northern Africa 30.7Gw while West Africa has just 10.3Gw. Tellingly, there is no major project in the rest of central Africa, and the landlocked desert countries.

Of note also is the progress in geothermal—with only 0.006Gw added between 2010 and 2012, some 4.57Gw is on track to be added by 2020, with countries like Kenya on the frontline, while recent big gas finds are also promising to change the continent’s energy outlook.

Some of the projects tracked are of importance to the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), a major African Union plan that has identified game-changing infrastructure projects that would transform the lives of millions of Africans.

Of the 51 projects that PIDA has been selling to investors, 15 are in energy.

The AEEP’s latest report notes that while grid power from mega-projects is significant, increasing access through off-grid initiatives would change the lives of isolated communities in areas underserved by infrastructure.

This article is published in collaboration with Mail & Guardian Africa. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Lee Mwiti writes for Mail & Guardian Africa.

Image: Dusk settles over the Angolan capital, Luanda. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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