“Africa doesn’t need Europe’s help, it needs partnership,” says David Otieno, head of the Africa-EU Energy Partnership (AEEP) Secretariat.
His statement best summarises the spirit of the Second Stakeholder Forum which brought together more than 400 participants from Europe and Africa last month – ranging from ministers and commissioners to international organisations, the private sector, academia and civil society – to discuss renewable energy investments and innovations between the two trading blocs.
Leaders from both continents applauded the progress made towards the 2020 AEEP targets. Although they agreed more time is needed, plans to extend access to modern and sustainable energy supplies to at least half of the continent’s 1.1 billion people, to increase the use of renewable energy on the continent, and to improve energy security, are still afoot.
Africa’s economy is growing currently at an average rate of 3 per cent per year and in the last decade, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, the continent’s power supply is not keeping pace.
As Jacques Moulot, chief energy specialist at the African Development Bank, points out, without a steady energy supply, real economic grow on the continent is impossible. “Energy is to economy what blood is to people,” he highlighted in his speech.
So what part can European Union policies play in plugging the energy deficit?
Renewables – the solution to energy poverty?
At present, over 600 million people lack access to electricity on the continent. The situation is particularly critical in the central region where less than 10 per cent of the population in countries like South Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic have access to electricity.
As a starting point, both African and European ministers agree that renewable energy systems – such as solar, wind, biomass and geothermal power – must play a crucial role in contributing towards universal and affordable energy access. This is already happening – the Forum detailed 58 joint initiatives which support renewable energy developments on the continent with EU funding and technical assistance.
“Renewable energy resources in Africa offers opportunities to not only fulfil the region’s energy needs, but also tap into the European market, with its energy bill of 1 billion euros a day,” Dr. Elham Ibrahim, the African Union Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy, told Equal Times.
Dr. Michael J. Saulo, of the Technical University of Mombasa, Kenya agrees: “Africa needs Europe and Europe needs Africa. Europe has the know-how and the private investment, Africa has a vast potential for renewables. All factors converge together.”
Analysts are calling on both partners to do more to attract the private sector, but a lack of policy and regulatory coherence as well as regional integration is a major obstacle to investment.
Yofi Grant, head of Databank, a Ghanaian private investment fund, agrees that “the private sector in sub-Saharan Africa is growing faster than in any other region of the world,” and yet investors are still failing to get on-board with big development projects.
“The African private sector and foreign investors must be more proactive and get involved with the development of the continent. This way, joint policies can be launched without fear of duplication,” he told Equal Times.
Top of the agenda
Between 2014 and 2020, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) intends to invest between 2.5 and 2.7 billion euros on energy projects in sub-Saharan Africa. “Energy access is at the top of our agenda and Africa is in the driving seat of this transition,” said DG-DEVCO’s deputy head of unit, Felice Zaccheo.
Several financial mechanisms have been designed to combine public funding with private, commercial and bank funds, managed by the African Investment Facility – a financial mechanism that combines EU grants with other resources such as development loans to foster investments which will have a positive socio-economic impact. The Electrification Financing Initative, a project that supports electrification investments in rural areas, is just one example.