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Africa will need a lot of energy to power its COVID-19 recovery, says Vera Songwe

Africa will need a lot of energy to build back better in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Vera Songwe, said Wednesday.

Speaking during a Res4Africa webinar on scaling up renewable energy investments in Africa, Ms. Songwe said actions to ensure there is enough energy to power Africa’s rebuilding efforts should focus on three key aspects infrastructure, supply and cost of energy.

She said following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade, education and health had moved to ICT platforms, consuming about 40 percent of the continent’s energy.

“So for us to be able to have on the continent a viable ICT sector that will allow our economies to build back better, we are going to need a lot of energy,” said Ms. Songwe, adding private investments will play a crucial role, especially with the launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The ECA Executive Secretary said the issue of the continent’s energy was not transition but energy substitution.

“We do not have the transition problem in the kind of scale that Europe has. The conversation for Africa is around substituting expensive bad fossil fuels into something that is cleaner and most certainly cheaper. We have to replace fuel-based energies with green and sustainable ones,” Ms. Songwe said.

She added partnerships and cooperation were needed in supporting African countries to deliver on their energy and development agenda.

“We need to begin to honestly and seriously look at the financing structures of Africa’s infrastructure. We are financing infrastructure at shorter time frames than it takes to build that infrastructure resulting in debt sustainability issues,” said Ms. Songwe to private sector representatives attending the webinar.

She said Africa’s power utilities need to up their game if they are to play a crucial role in helping the continent build back better post COVID-19.

The conversation for Africa is around substituting expensive bad fossil fuels into something that is cleaner and most certainly cheaper

Only two countries in Africa, Uganda and Seychelles, have viable electricity sectors, said Ms. Songwe, a situation she said needs to be addressed with only 19 nations operating at expenditure while the rest are operating at excessive losses.

Cost reflective tariffs are part of the problem affecting the continent’s power sector, she said, adding; “We must ensure that on the continent tariffs are cost reflective.”

Ms. Songwe said the continent needs to collectively work together to ensure regional power pools are viable.

“Not every African country can produce energy,” she said, adding with the game-changing AfCFTA, the private sector can invest in the regional power pools to the continent’s benefit. Ms. Songwe said local currency energy investments would go a long way in boosting access to affordable energy on the continent.

For his part, Francesco La Camera, Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), said Africa’s energy decisions are pivotal to climate mitigation and socio-economic development. He reinforced the centrality of the energy transition to post COVID-19 recovery and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Africa’s long-term prosperity.

“The need to electrify cities in a sustainable way must be the core of government strategies,” he said, adding there was an urgent need to ensure “the ruling class addresses the perception of risks that investors still have in some parts of Africa”.

Stefano Signore, Head of Unit for Sustainable Energy and Climate Change, Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development in the European Commission, said; “There is a calling and need to work with Africa and for Africa. We are confident that Europe and Africa can work together to meet the climate agenda, undertake a clean energy transition and forward Africa’s renewable energy development.”

For his part, Amith Singh, Head of Energy Finance at Nedbank in South Africa, said; “If we really want to see Africa’s renewable power being developed, we need global initiatives that can leverage cooperation and investment.”

He said Europe can mitigate risks in African countries with sustainable programmes that can encourage the development of new policies, capacity building, local manufacturing and provide financial assistance.

Roberto Vigotti, Res4Africa Foundation’s Secretary General, said placing renewable energy at the heart of Africa’s COVID-19 recovery is crucial to bridging the energy access gap on the continent.

RES4Africa Foundation and Enel Foundation’s joint 3rd flagship publication Scaling up Africa’s renewable power which is dedicated to de-risking renewable energy investments in Africa, was unveiled during the webinar.

Mr. Vigotti said the publication will shed some light on the importance of effective de-risking initiatives to unlock Africa’s renewable energy potential and calls for a new impetus on possible solutions to crowd-in renewable energy investments at scale.


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