Christine is a Zimbabwean student who dreams of working in energy policy and is committed to increasing the involvement of women in the sector. Ujunwa from Nigeria is a development financial specialist who works for a private company making investments in clean energy. Kwadwo is a Ghanaian engineer who works at the country’s national Energy Ministry in the development of renewables.
They move through the headquarters of Enel in Rome, alongside 13 fellow trailblazers, with the curiosity of those exploring a new reality combined with the awareness of those who know the sector. They observe, take photographs, and listen attentively to the control room technicians as they are briefed on the most advanced technological innovations.
They are some of the 16 “finalists” of Open Africa Power 2019, the training course for the most promising young Africans in the energy sector now in its second edition, organised by the Enel Foundation in collaboration with prestigious Italian and African universities: Polytechnic University of Milan, Polytechnic University of Turin, SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Venice International University, Florence School of Regulation, Strathmore University of Nairobi and University of Addis Ababa.
The course, entitled “Forging a new generation of African leaders in the energy sector”, is open to postgraduates with master’s degrees or PhDs and aims to capacity-build a class of energy experts concerning various issues (engineering, legislation, economics and finance) with a particular focus on renewable sources. Carlo Papa, Director of the Enel Foundation, believes this represents a great opportunity, because today there are no more than a hundred such leaders in the African energy sector.
Europe and Africa, a shared destiny
The population of the African continent will double by 2050 and quadruple by 2100, reaching 4 billion inhabitants. This astounding demographic growth is accompanied by another important prediction: an average age of just 19.4 years. Furthermore, according to the World Bank, today only 43% of Africans have access to energy: a significant increase compared to 15% in 1990 but still too small a number. Today Africans are young, numerous and have little access to energy.
One of the most powerful factors in promoting sustainable development in Africa, as Enel’s Chairman Patrizia Grieco noted when addressing the course students at SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, is education, which, like energy, is a key tool for wealth creation. In this context, Europe plays an essential role, as does Italy, especially considering its geographical position as the natural bridge to Africa. Combining education and energy, Open Africa Power is part of this approach. Accordingly, the “Italy as an international education hub to support Africa’s sustainable future” report, produced by the Africa Lab at Bocconi in collaboration with the Enel Foundation, was presented during the course. The research demonstrates that the demand for tertiary education in Africa will see spectacular growth, considering the population increase predicted for the continent and its demographic structure. Amidst all this, one thing is certain: the future of Europe is closely linked to sustainable development in Africa. To cite Patrizia Grieco, who is also President of the Scientific Committee of the Enel Foundation, “we are like twins who share the same destiny”.
The Enel Group in Africa
João Duarte, Deputy Director of the Enel Foundation, reports that Open Africa Power is already well known across the continent, as was demonstrated by the over 400 submissions from more than 37 countries to the 2019 edition that concluded with the Italian module. This further strengthens the Enel Group presence in Africa: we have exploratory licences in Algeria for gas, while Enel Green Power is active in South Africa and is launching projects in Morocco, Zambia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Kenya.
And we can still do so much more: the course students are convinced of this. Mehari, an engineer from Ethiopia, points out his country’s huge potential in clean energy (solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal) and hopes that the path being pioneered with Enel Green Power can continue.
Nita, a lawyer from Burkina Faso, explains that 90% of energy in her country comes from biomass and that only 4% of the population in rural areas has access to electricity. The government is launching a policy of incentives to encourage renewable sources, in particular to take up the huge potential in solar resources: so Nita hopes to see an Enel presence in her area too. Evan, a Kenyan engineer, hopes that the Enel Group will also contribute to the networks, given its experience in transmission and distribution, in an increasingly multicentric and less vertical energy system, as well as in micro grids in isolated areas.
The energy market from theory to practice
The first of the four course modules began in January in Addis Ababa. The featured issues were digitalisation, regulatory and economic aspects relating to networks and renewable sources. The 60 participants (a third of whom were women) were selected on a strictly meritocratic basis.
It was clear from the start that the effectiveness of the course went well beyond the lesson programme: one of the most important aspects for the students was being able to meet and build a network. The positive benefits were seen immediately: a group of young women from Ethiopia took the opportunity to establish the “Ethiopian Women in Energy” network because “there is still no organisation of this sort.”
The second, distance-learning module, organised by the Florence School of Regulation, focused on legislative and regulatory aspects that support universal access to sustainable energy. After this, the 16 best performing students (9 male, 7 female) were admitted to the third module, held in Italy from 24 June to 5 July, beginning with a week of courses and workshops in the partner universities involved in the project (including a visit to Turin for Italian Tech Week, where the students met with representatives from the Italian high-tech sector and were able to pitch their own projects).
A tour of our energy production plants followed: from the geothermal centre in Larderello to the hydroelectric plant in Castel Giubileo, from the thermal plant in Civitavecchia to the wind farm in Collarmele, as well as visits to the distribution plant in L’Aquila and the control room at the Rome headquarters.
Many of the students, impressed by the range of technologies, said that they particularly appreciated this phase of the course and, in general, the approach that alternated theory with practice: an aspect not always given enough importance in their previous academic experiences. Equally interesting were the side events, including a meeting at the Italian Foreign Ministry with their countries’ ambassadors and diplomatic representatives. The programme concluded with an institutional meeting at ARERA, the Italian Regulatory Authority for Energy, Networks and the Environment, where participants learnt more about the Italian model in the sector.
Mr Duarte emphasised the progress made since the previous edition of Open Africa Power: the number of participants has doubled, the percentage of PhD candidates or graduates has risen from 33% to 44%, Venice International University has joined the list of Italian academic institutions involved and the Foreign Ministry has increased its support. Next year’s edition will aim to involve South Africa too, with an increased number of students.
Meanwhile, the final step, which focuses on “giving back” has begun, whereby the students on their return home commit to making realistic efforts to share what they have learnt and implement this knowledge in potential projects. Meriam, from Morocco, began sharing her experience on social media during her two-week stay in Italy. Ilrshaad, from Mauritius, has already put himself forward as a mentor and back in his country he will teach what he has learnt, also through a business initiative. The students have become the teachers.