How do we ensure energy security in Africa?

What the developed world is failing to understand is that as Africa rises out of poverty, affordable and accessible energy becomes necessary to sustain this development, argues Shaun Nel, Programme Director of the Energy Intensive User Group.

Equally, Africa needs the developed world to invest in climate change technology and projects which will allow it to develop at an increased pace without placing additional pressures on greenhouse gas emission levels.

What the developed world is failing to understand is that Africa's development means a higher demand for energy.

The eradication of poverty in Africa will result in higher demand for goods such as washing machines and mobile telephony which will require increased energy supplies. If the globe demands low emissions and a shift to clean energy-based technology, then Africa will require international funding.

Calling on the continent not to leverage their commodity wealth including coal reserves is unrealistic and unfair since Africa, compared to the rest of the developed world, has done little in comparison to contribute to the current climate change predicament.

Africa contributes very little to global climate change, with low carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial production in both absolute and per capita terms.

SA is by far the largest culprit of emissions in the African region, responsible for 39% of the continent's total. Another 42% comes from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, and Nigeria combined.

Still according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Africa will be first and hardest hit by global climate change. Africa is also among the least equipped to adapt to its adverse effects.

As a commodities-endowed country, industry and mining contribute significantly to the South African economy. For this reason, SA must leverage this endowment to foster economic and job growth. The country cannot afford to place hurdles in the path of labour-absorptive sectors - which in SA are the energy intense sectors.

SA's carbon path, for example, is linked directly to electricity consumption; as such SA's ability to meet emissions reduction targets requires a transformation of Eskom toward low carbon generation. This transformation, however, is costly and long-term.

The challenge is therefore balancing energy security, emissions and the cost of affordable electricity.

If SA were no longer able to utilise its coal reserves locally, it would be forced to export the commodity and result in carbon leakage - another reason why a binding global agreement addressing climate change is important.

While major opportunities for decentralised energy generation exist in Africa these are often untapped opportunities because of a lack of funding. Furthermore access to low carbon generation options is often stifled due to regional conflict and lack of regional cooperation.

Grand Inga for example is the world's largest hydropower scheme proposed for the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The massive dam is part of a greater vision to develop a power grid across Africa that will spur the continent's industrial economic development. But with an estimated price tag of US$80billion, the project cannot proceed without international funding and support.

While climate change plays on the public consciousness the world cannot forget to keep concerns around climate change in proportion to the full range of global concerns such as poverty alleviation and energy security in the developing world.

*Shaun Nel is Programme Director of the Energy Intensive User Group (EIUG). He and a host of other high level African energy professionals will engage at the up and coming Africa Energy Indaba from February 21-23 at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg. This article is to inform and educate, not to advise.

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