The transition to sustainable energy systems seems inevitable, yet most regions of the world still face their own challenges along the way. A new report from the International Energy Agency offers a vision of the energy transition in Africa, which is having a growing impact on the global energy agenda.
Africa's Energy Outlook 2019 (IEA) comes with an update to the first report on Africa published five years ago. This time it brings a new level of detail and a new level of ambition, emphasizing the unique context for the sustainable future of the region.
Africa currently produces only 2% of the world's energy-related CO2 emissions, while it is home to some of the world's most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change. It has the "world's richest solar resources on the planet" while producing only 1% of the world's solar energy. The region is also rich in resources such as cobalt and platinum, which are crucial for global energy transitions.
The expected increase in energy demand suggests a potential for a rapid increase in emissions, along with the need for a rapid transition to clean energy sources. Therefore, the region is challenged to innovate its way through this situation, with stakes as high as ever.
Among two scenarios suggested by the IEA, one stands out. It looks at Africa's own vision for the future based on its Agenda 2063 and other key regional policies. And as the report suggests, Africa faces a unique opportunity to do it the right way without repeating many mistakes made by industrially developed nations so that it can choose a much less carbon-intensive path.
Under sound investment and collaborative policies, most of these challenges can be solved and we can expect more than three-quarters of new capabilities to come from clean sources. And if all goes well, in 20 years we could see an economy four times the size but powered by just 50% more energy.
Meanwhile, many challenges remain, with 600 million people still without access to electricity and 900 million without access to a clean kitchen. Lack of clean water and proper hygiene leads to 500,000 premature deaths each year. About 80% of businesses in sub-Saharan Africa still experience power outages, often leading to economic losses.
To see how these challenges can be addressed and build on current momentum, the report provides an in-depth analysis of the factors influencing Africa's energy development, as well as detailed models for 11 sub-Saharan countries. This provides “a much greater level of detail than any other energy analysis in Africa”, including insights on fossil fuel reserves, energy trade and country-specific challenges. It also considers challenges related to urbanization, industrialization, and other key trends.
To manage the transition effectively, policymakers will need to prioritize public benefits and responsible stewardship of resources. It will be crucial to avoid future-compromising options for short-term economic gains (eg, hydrocarbon development), investing in transparency and diversification.
Commenting on the report's findings, IEA Executive Director Dr. Faith Birol is optimistic about the future of the region and its broader global role. "Africa holds the key to global energy transitions, as it is the continent with the most important ingredients for producing critical technologies," he says.
The report may stimulate greater and much more informed interest in the region from potential investors and partners around the world. It is still important to travel a path outside of purely economic and geopolitical interests so that Africa's energy future can align well with planetary boundaries.