Solar is cheapest energy option for Africa, but gas could be valuable
The world was currently in the midst of an energy crisis. This affected countries differently, but it affected all countries. This was highlighted by International Energy Agency (IEA) deputy executive director Mary Burce Warlick in her keynote address to the Africa Energy Week conference in Cape Town, on Tuesday. Coming on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic, this had increased pressure on the finances of African countries.
A consequence of this was that, between 2019 and 2021, according to IEA data, the number of Africans with access to electricity had declined by 4%, or by 25-million people. This was in contrast to the increasing access to electricity recorded between 2013 and 2019. The energy crisis had also driven up food prices.
She noted that IEA data also indicated that providing universal access to electricity in Africa would require an investment of $25-million a year. That would be equivalent to building one large liquid natural gas plant a year.
The cheapest source of electricity in Africa was renewables. And within renewables, solar energy would be the main component, because it would be the cheapest option. Africa was also the best continent in which to deploy solar energy. Even so, a lot of investment would still be required.
Regarding Africa’s natural gas resources, she highlighted that, if these were all exploited, they would increase Africa’s share of carbon emissions to only some 3% of the global total. And gas could provide valuable extra energy, as well as contributing to de-carbonisation (natural gas produces fewer carbon emissions than other hydrocarbon fuels). Shorter-term projects would avoid the danger facing long-term projects of coming on line only to soon encounter shrinking markets.
Warlick further observed that Africa had many mineral and metal resources that could be exploited, provided energy, environmental and social issues were addressed. Regarding both African energy investments and climate action, “[t]his is, in our view, the critical decade,” she warned.