How Energy Sufficiency can Create Sustainable Development in Africa

The African population, mostly composed of a younger population of millennials and Gen Z is fast growing. It’s set to be the most populous region globally, overtaking Asia by 2050

But with the increasing population of the region, especially in cities scattered across the continent, comes bigger energy need crucial for economic development.

Essentially, the continent’s energy need is evenly distributed across industrial, residential and transportation use. However, much of the energy consumption isn’t from the electricity grid. More than 600 million people are disconnected from the grid across the continent.

The Prevailing Problem

Like every other social amenity such as affordable housing, Africans supports the government in providing their own electricity. They spend on gasoline and diesel back-up generators, while people still connected to the electricity grid experience incessant power shortages, decrepit power infrastructure and shortage generation capacity that could power the economy.

The continent needs to power its own infrastructure, schools and health facilities, but its people are looking elsewhere to find a solution in back-up generators.

However, the money spent on running gasoline and diesel back-up generators is causing the continent more problems than it can handle.

For instance, the back-up generators cost millions of dollars in purchase and servicing costs. Also, the over-dependence on fossil fuel to power the continent — without addressing the existential power grid problem — is also causing global warming.

Furthermore, another problem that the continent wrestles with is the absence of clean cooking especially in its rural communities of about 656 million people.

Cooking fuel, used for cooking, heating, smoking and drying, is an integral part of every household scattered across the continent. But the consumption of fuelwood and charcoal, rather than cooking gas, reigns supreme.

The continual exhaustion of charcoal and fuelwood into the atmosphere, in the grand scheme of things, contributes to global warming.

Globally, the trend of energy consumption is moving towards sustainability in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which aims to achieve a better and sustainable future by the year 2030.

SDG goal 7 specifically creates a framework that calls for affordable, reliable and sustainable energy for all — especially Africa’s over 600 million people cut off from electricity — by 2030.

In Nigeria, a PwC report estimates that one in five people has access to the national electricity grid. This shortfall in electricity supply leaves four people in five to source electricity for themselves in makeshift power solutions like a back-up generator.

Consequently, analysts have suggested strategies to fix the continent’s energy problems with sustainability in mind.

Energy Sufficiency: A proven Sustainable Solution

Nigeria’s current installed capacity of the electrical grid is 12,522 MW (MegaWatt), mostly generated from hydropower and natural gas thermal power sources. Nationwide, 85 per cent of the grid-connected power plants are fossil gas fired while the hydroelectric power plants control the remaining 15 per cent.

For a population of 200 million people, the number of electrical grid nationwide and power generating capacity is infinitesimal.

While most of the country’s electrification strategies focus on the extension of the national grid, analysts have said, the country electrification solutions point elsewhere: sustainable energy.

To this end, the adoption of stand-alone renewable technologies and min-grid solutions have been recommended. It’s also a bottom-up solution that will serve its disconnected rural inhabitants.

To achieve energy sufficiency in other sectors such as the transportation, industrial and residential sectors, analysts have also suggested the development of the natural gas sector.

The continent is also rich in energy resources liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG), but much of these natural resources are largely underutilized. Besides, the growth in the industry is pivoted for exportation into foreign market and not for local consumption of Africa inhabitants. For instance, the $50bn investment committed to Mozambican LNG by Exxon and Anadarko is scheduled to serve the global market rather than Africans.

The Possibilities of Sufficient Energy

If the right policies and infrastructure for sustainable development aren’t adopted, Africa risks losing out on sustainable development. The continent has huge energy resources that could inspire renewable energy, but it is starved of the political willpower, investment and policies to develop these resources.

Time is running out, and if the economic cost of power shortages in Nigeria is at $28 billion is anything to go by, Nigeria and its counterparts across the continent need to look inward to produce renewable energy — in all sectors — that will serve its swelling populace.

As a result, it’s better to drive towards energy sufficiency, and to achieve this, analysts have suggested the following:

Mini-grid development

Like every other African country, Nigeria’s electricity grid cannot serve its growing rural and urban population. Hence, the shift to mini-grid energy, a decentralized, independent electricity network that functions separately from a national electricity grid.

Because it’s decentralized, it can provide electricity to underserved areas especially rural communities where agriculture production is domiciled. This will reduce the power cut and boost local production.

When electricity is sufficient, businesses that run on power will save costs on back-up generators and make more profits, clinics will maintain cold storage facilities, households will enjoy the impacts of electricity.

Boost LPG Production

Going forward, fast-tracking the adoption of clean cooking — especially with cooking gas — should be the priority of government across the continent. Nigeria currently produces 4 million metric tonnes (MT) of LPG gas per annum. Consumption has also increased from 400,000 (MT) in 2018 to 600,000 (MT).

Boosting the production and consumption of LPG through favourable policies and investment will not serve the Nigerian populace, it will also provide more jobs opportunities through infrastructural developments of more LPG plants.

Currently, private downstream oil sector players such as Prudent Energy are assisting the government’s effort in the production of gas plant facilities to boost the production of LPG. Building infrastructure such as gas plants will not only increase the production of LPG, it will also inspire a gradual transition to clean energy from fossil-reliant fuelwood or cooking stove.

In conclusion, a commitment to increase energy sufficiency through a switch from fossil reliant economy to a sustainable one requires political will, investment and strong policy formulation and implementation. When all these boxes are ticked correctly, Africa will create a continent that will inspire sustainable development.