Place of tech in adoption of renewable energy in Africa

A solar roofed parking lot at Maiyan resort in Laikipia County. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

Amid the global energy transition, Africa stands at a critical juncture, poised to accelerate its energy access through transformative technological advancements. As we begin to move from pledges to concrete action following crucial conversations at COP28, it is imperative to address the unique challenges and opportunities that Africa faces in its drive towards eradicating energy poverty on the continent.

At COP28, I shared the challenges, opportunities that Africa and the Global South must address as we advance towards adoption of renewable energy for the continent. As we know, 600 million Africans have no access to power. This is more than the combined population of the US, UK and France.

As investors in the energy sector, we should focus on increasing availability, access, and affordability of energy as the key drivers to eradicating energy poverty in the Global South.

Even as we begin to see the benefits of emerging technologies, the reality is that energy innovation remains largely out of reach for the Global South. I am calling for new technologies to be developed, that will drive us from phasing down to phasing out fossil fuels.

However, these technologies cannot solely work within a European or American energy context – our approach must consider the energy realities of Africa and the Global South.

The best and most sustainable approach will be to phase down fossil fuels gradually while growing energy access and testing new technologies. As power availability is increased and technology evolves, only then will the region also be able to phase out fossil fuels completely.

How do we achieve this?

The issue of affordability in financing plagues investors in the sector. Most financial institutions are not keen to fund start up projects creating a vacuum for the private sector to explore locally available and modern technologies for value addition.

The existing financing models require high levels of due diligence which cannot be guaranteed with energy projects that depend on renewables. This automatically makes most projects un-bankable and high-risk from an investment perspective.

Additionally, policies and regulations across African jurisdictions have yet to mature enough to support investment of these new technologies. There is no existing blueprint for approval and implementation of these emerging technologies and regulation is being applied in relation to existing expertise which is often untenable.

Implementation if at all, then becomes a lengthy laborious and expensive exercise that investors would naturally shy away from. Clear permitting and licensing regimes can reassure investors that projects will not suffer long delays due to onerous and lengthy approval procedures, minimising project costs.

Technological advancements should include simpler solutions such as bioenergy technologies that use wood fuel or biochar for cooking to reduce emissions. Currently 2.9 billion people worldwide rely on solid fuels to meet their cooking and heating needs. Wood fuel is the most popular as it is readily available and most affordable.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 2 - 7 percent of global anthropogenic emission is attributed to greenhouse gases, most of it coming from the production and use of firewood and charcoal.

These pollutant gases, especially when used in inefficient biomass cooking stoves in indoor environments with limited ventilation have been said to contribute to nearly two million deaths annually, a bigger killer than malaria.

There is need to prioritise transition away from non-renewable biomass fired stoves by providing high efficient biomass fired improved cookstoves. Supporting the development of innovative clean cooking technologies offers alternatives to remote and off grid communities.

Despite the challenges that exist, the Global South can still begin to move towards a green transition. Hybridisation can serve to increase access and affordability while allowing for scalability. This strategy can accelerate accessibility at an affordable price which is important if emerging economies are to realise the benefits of energy technology.

Investing in micro-grids is another avenue to increase access. Hybrid Micro grid technologies that can be powered by wind, solar or mini-hydro are scalable, achievable and can be developed at more affordable costs to the end consumer.

These natural sources are free and readily available in Africa. What is lacking is the firm power to enable the implementation of these. With a hybrid approach, the right financing model and polices, the Global South can begin to advance towards a phase out of fossil fuels and accelerate transition.

Development of liquified natural gas as a transition energy will ensure accessibility and affordability. Considering the example of Tanzania, where the benefits of gas have already been realised. CNG is emerging as a green and sustainable solution to reducing costs of fuel for motorists in the country.

This year, Dalbit (part of JCG group) worked with Egyptian energy company TAQA to construct an integrated compressed natural gas station that allows motorists to convert their vehicles from liquid fuel combustion to CNG combustion.

This was a pan-African operation, supported by the Tanzanian government to increase the use of its natural gas reserves as a cheaper alternative to consumers. Vehicles that use CNG instead of liquid fuels are greener and cleaner and estimated to emit approximately 25 percent less CO2.

For these new technologies to be quickly adopted, regions must align its policy, regulatory and financial models to fast-track projects. Public-private partnerships emerge as a cornerstone of accelerating energy access in the region.

The collaboration between governments, businesses, multi-lateral, and non-profit organisations has the potential to unlock financial resources, share expertise, and create an enabling environment for sustainable energy projects. This can ensure the availability of patient equity and affordable debt for local businesses to accelerate energy access.

I continue to urge stakeholders to scale up and replicate these models across the continent.

The critical factor for stakeholders in the energy sector now is to align their efforts, share best practices, and forge partnerships that will propel Africa and the Global South towards a future where reliable and sustainable energy is accessible to all.

In embracing innovative solutions and harnessing the power of technology, the Global South will not only address its energy challenges but emerge as a trailblazer in the global pursuit of a clean and equitable energy future.

Humphrey Kariuki is the executive founder of Janus Continental Group and sits on Kenyan National Investment Council as the Energy Chairman.

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