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Africa must optimise all it has to achieve universal energy access, says AfDB head

PRST Group- Dr Adesina (4th from right) and VP Kariuki (Extreme right) with panelists of the session on ‘Harnessing Africa’s renewable energy potential.

African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina has called for investments in renewable energy in Africa, pointing out the continent’s rich energy mix. 

In his keynote address on Tuesday during a session on ‘Harnessing Africa’s renewable energy potential’, held at the ongoing Africa Climate Summit, President Adesina stressed: “Every economy can only go as far as the energy it produces.”

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Adesina underlined Africa’s tremendous potential in energy—from hydro and wind power, solar, to geothermal—which remains untapped, in the face of a staggering electricity deficit on the continent. Africa has an almost unlimited potential of solar capacity (11 TW); abundant hydro (350 GW), out of which only 5-6% is being harvested; wind (110 GW), of which only two percent is being used; and geothermal energy sources (15 GW), he said.

In spite of this, 600 million people on the continent are living without access to electricity. Furthermore, a lack of clean energy has seen about 300,000 women dying every year trying to cook a meal. “This is not acceptable. We must make sure we achieve universal energy access, optimising and maximising the potential that Africa has, including natural gas, which is a great part of the energy mix,” he said.

He added: “We have to make sure we combine renewable energy sources and give Africa energy security, energy stability, affordability of energy and independence into the energy sector, to be able to power its economy.”

The Bank chief affirmed the importance of accelerating private sector investments in renewable energy but said this would require political support which would result in better policies and better incentives to attract private sector financing.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Mauritanian Abdeslam Saleh, Minister of Economic and Sustainable Development, who highlighted that political goodwill had resulted in the country mainstreaming energy in its key plans to accelerate access. “We are moving ahead; we have put renewable energy at the centre of our Vision 2030-2040 development plan. With this, we envision a bright future for Africa,” he said.

Mauritania is a key leader of the Desert to Power initiative, which aims at maximizing the vast solar power potential across the Sahel region, comprising Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. The Bank-led project seeks to transform the Sahel into the world’s largest solar production zone.

Malawi’s energy minister, Ibrahim Matola noted that renewable energy potential offered Africa the opportunity to innovate and deliver energy access to its people. “Renewable energy is the only way to go; but we need innovative measures for storage to address transmission and distribution losses,” he said. Reports indicate that electricity losses in Africa during distribution and transmission amount to $5 billion annually.

“If countries are to go for renewal energy in large scale, they need large scale storage. This will contribute to addressing energy poverty”, noted Simon Harford, Chief Executive Officer of Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP). He reiterated his organisation’s commitment to support African governments as they embed renewable energy at the core of their development endeavours.

The high-level panel was moderated by African Development Bank Vice President for Power, Energy, Climate and Green Growth Dr Kevin Kariuki. The Bank is participating in the climate talks, happening in Nairobi, Kenya. They will close on September 8, 2023.

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