It’s time to make Africa’s energy poverty a thing of the past | Renewable Energy
Globally, nearly 800 million people do not have access to electricity—about 600 million of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. In a world of increasing inequality between the rich and the poor, this is a clear injustice. After the pandemic, with cheap renewable energy and green investment, we can create a history of energy poverty in the next ten years. It is possible to achieve universal energy access by 2030, but we need to start striding forward as soon as possible. Therefore, the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the European Union invite other partners to join us in making energy access the core of cooperation with Africa.
The lack of electricity inhibits those aspects of daily life that many of us take for granted. Electricity powers our economy: we need it in schools, offices and hospitals, and now it can refrigerate life-saving vaccines. We need to expand electricity supply on an industrial scale so that families in sub-Saharan Africa can pursue the same standard of living as families in other parts of the world.
Technological progress and unprecedented declines in the cost of renewable energy can now provide the cheapest electricity in human history. In the past 20 years, the large-scale expansion of global power supply has been mainly driven by coal-fired power plants. But investing in coal no longer makes sense. Africa is the best place in the world to use solar energy and has proven that a cleaner road is possible.
Between 2014 and 2019, 20 million people in Africa received electricity for the first time each year, and most of the growing demand was met by increasingly competitive solar and hydroelectric power generation installations. Utilizing the abundant energy of the African continent can help develop local employment opportunities and avoid expensive import costs.
Unfortunately, despite advances in technology, the world still cannot fulfill our global commitment to universal energy by 2030. The COVID-19 crisis caused a major setback. If no action is taken, this may develop into a lasting negative trend.
Last year, the number of people without access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa increased-for the first time in seven years. Restrictions caused by the pandemic hinder jobs that connect families, businesses, schools, and hospitals, and the global economic downturn has severely restricted the budgets of African countries. This greatly limits the space for African governments to provide funding for clean energy investments, and causes millions of people to fall back into extreme poverty, unable to afford basic electricity services.
Barriers to deploying solar and other renewable technologies in Africa include the initial cost of installing them. Once solar and wind power plants are up and running, they have the advantage of free energy supply-solar and wind energy. However, in developing economies, given the limited financial resources of these communities, the upfront cost of establishing a micro-grid or independent household solar system is huge, especially in rural communities.
In addition, companies trying to build new renewable energy projects are not always able to guarantee stable income from the beginning and face difficulties in attracting investors. In general, companies in developing economies face much higher borrowing costs than companies in developed economies, which adds additional barriers to any renewable energy project. These difficulties are now exacerbated by the economic losses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has lasted much longer in many developing economies in Africa and other regions.
The good news is that there are solutions to these challenges. They include innovative pay-as-you-go business models to share upfront costs, improved policies and regulatory frameworks to promote more projects, and international and regional organizations stepping up efforts to support the development of the industry and reduce costs. The financing cost of renewable energy projects.
All governments and relevant international organizations must urgently reaffirm our commitment to eradicate energy poverty by 2030, including in the upcoming UN High-Level Dialogue on Energy. We must support this commitment with stronger actions.
The European Union and the International Energy Agency are cooperating to make clean energy an integral part of international efforts to achieve net zero emissions. This is how we solve the problem of uneven energy access without locking in any more harmful fossil fuel emissions. The IEA and the European Commission, through their green energy initiative, make access to clean energy the core of our cooperation with African governments.
We will work to increase the number of people, businesses and industries in Africa that have access to affordable, modern and sustainable energy services. In 2021, the European Commission’s green energy initiative will enter a new phase. Once in place, grants, technical assistance and other financial instruments will support investment in renewable energy generation and promote energy efficiency across Africa.
In the next seven years, 30% of the EU’s international cooperation budget will be used to combat climate change. But public funds alone are not enough. Private sector investment will be the key, and many European companies are ready to step in. But if we are to succeed in making Africa’s energy poverty a thing of the past, we need the world’s joint efforts to end overseas financing of coal power, accelerate cooperation in the development of clean power in Africa, and increase financial support from developed economies.
Let us be clear-access to clean energy is not just climate action. Renewable energy is a good business and an economical way to generate electricity. Investing in clean energy is a comprehensive economic development strategy. Therefore, we count on other major economies and organizations to work with us to take concrete steps to make energy poverty history in the next decade.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.