Innovation and Renewables: Has the “African Century” Begun?

Published on Friday, 26 May 2017

“Innovation as a key factor in bringing energy to Africa” was the title of the fifth annual RES4MED conference, held on 22 May at the Enel Auditorium in Rome

In Africa, there is an urgent need for renewable energy. There are many difficulties to overcome, “but there are also many innovative solutions on the horizon”. This was reiterated by Antonio Cammisecra, CEO of Enel Green Power and president of RES4MED (Renewables Energy Solutions for Mediterranean), who opened the association’s annual conference at the Enel Auditorium in Rome (Italy). 

“Innovation as a key factor in bringing energy to Africa” was the title of the conference marking the fifth anniversary of RES4MED’s foundation.”

A new approach

RES4MED/RES4Africa’s annual event was opened by Roberto Vigotti, the association’s executive secretary. He emphasised how, in the near future, it will be essential to move from a Euro-centric approach to one more aimed at the creation of an equal dialogue with partners on the African continent. “An approach that was expanded last year with the foundation of RES4Africa”, explained Vigotti.

“Africa has a very young population, is rich in resources, has high economic growth rates, but its population still has limited access to energy.”

About 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to the electrical grid, while severe and frequent energy shortages threaten the development of agriculture and industrial development.

As concerns the transmission and distribution of electricity, poor maintenance of the grids causes load losses that are often twice the global average, contributing significantly to the inefficiency of the system.

The African century of green energy

The private sector and foreign investors will have a fundamental role in supporting new investments, leading to an increase in system competitiveness in support of innovation of energy infrastructure.

The International Energy Agency - IEA estimates that investments in the energy sector in the sub-Saharan zone will increase considerably in the near future.

About 110 billion dollars a year in investments are expected, with an incremental value of 30 billion dollars a year in the next ten years and an incremental doubling of 60 billion dollars annually starting from 2030.

“Investments and new business models can make the twenty-first century the “African century” of sustainable energy.”

Energy for everyone, going beyond obstacles

Energy is an essential prerequisite in improving economic activity and quality of life, but Africa still needs key infrastructures.

For Francesco Starace, CEO of Enel, “the growth of renewable energy will continue, as it is a development factor”, but there are three typologies of obstacles to overcome in Africa: “technical”, given the absence of interconnections between countries and the lack of grid structures; “business", because of the actions of incumbent local operators that make it difficult to enter; “socio-political” linked to the risks in certain countries that can make business difficult. “While the first and second obstacles can be overcome, the third will take more time. But in this regard, renewables can play an important role” stated Starace.

Innovation: catalyst of development

Mini-grid and off-grid solutions, development of grids at the urban and sub-urban levels, alternative systems of access to energy: these are some examples of how new technologies can become catalysts of development and foster aggregations between public and private entities, with access to adequate financing.

“More and more, Africa is becoming a laboratory of technological experimentation that will be able to provide a fundamental contribution to the future of the industry.”

– Francesco Venturini, Director of the Global E-Solutions Division of Enel

The new business models associated with the development of renewable supply chains can contribute to the formation of business partnerships along the entire value chain.

Valuable Partnerships

The event in Rome was also a chance to get to know projects and partnerships that already demonstrate the advent of a new paradigm for the development of Africa.

In Kenya, for example, RES4Africa signed an MoU with the Kenya Power Lighting Company (KPLC) to found the Micro Grid Academy, a 30-kW hybrid mini-grid in Nairobi for educational purposes.

Also in Kenya, at the request of the Ministry of Gas and Energy, RES4MED and CESI have launched a study to estimate the maximum capacity of renewables the country will be able to reach by 2025 and by 2030 without compromising the stability of transmission and distribution networks.

In Ethiopia, the Ministry of Industry announced a partnership with UNIDO, UNDP, FAO and the Italian Development Cooperation for the creation of new agro-industrial parks, aimed at the installation of private companies of the food supply chain, where the issue of energy supply will be crucial to sustaining economies of scale.

On the sidelines of the conference RES4Med signed a memorandum of understanding with the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE) to promote the development of decentralised solutions for energy production from renewables sources.

“We are very pleased to formalise and strengthen our collaboration with ARE with this memorandum of understanding", said the General Secretary of Res4Med, Roberto Vigotti. "ARE plays a key role in boosting off-grid energy solutions, putting together the public and private sectors to increase energy access and rural electrification in emerging markets".

The importance of the understanding was emphasised by the Executive Director of ARE, Marcus Wiemann, who stressed the common values shared by the two associations.