Renewables for Africa, Africa for innovation

Published on Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Renewable energy can offer a sustainable solution to respond to the growing demand for electric energy in Africa. At the same time, Africa represents an incredible opportunity to develop green solutions and innovate the energy business.

This, in short, is the scenario outlined for the African energy sector on the occasion of the fifth annual conference of RES4MED (Renewable Energy Solutions for the Mediterranean), held on 22 May at the Enel auditorium in Rome.

The event, the theme of which was “Innovation as the key enabler to power Africa”, and the packed schedule was opened by Roberto Vigotti, Secretary General of RES4MED, who reminded those in attendance of the progress of the last five years of the organization, a platform for energy cooperation founded in 2012 as an initiative of the then CEO of Enel Green Power and the current Enel CEO, Francesco Starace, with the aim of contributing to the creation of regulatory, infrastructure and financial conditions for the spread on a large scale of renewable energy in the Mediterranean area; this led to the foundation, one year ago, of the spin-off RES4Africa.

Born with idea of developing renewables energy in North-Africa, Vigotti explained that the network reviewed and extended the targets and the scope for action, enlarging the number of partnerships with institutional bodies, organizations from the sector, businesses and the world of research, and moving the focus beyond the coasts of Mediterranean Africa towards Sub-Saharan Africa and the entire continent in order to meet the growing internal demand for energy through renewables.

There is a great strength in Africa and a fantastic alignment of conditions that favours the development of renewables. For this reason we must bring skills and training to the continent and raise awareness that renewables can satisfy the populations’ energy needs,” explained the Enel CEO, speaking at the event.

Africa has, in fact, an urgent need to increase investment in the electricity sector. Rich in natural resources, Africa has high levels of economic growth but over 600 million Africans still do not have access to energy. Demand for energy in Sub-Saharan Africa has grown by 45% since 2000 and it represents just 4% of the global total. The continent’s current energy situation is not sufficient to cover the average daily energy needs of families and even less able to feed the productive sectors. It is within this context that the private sector and foreign investors play a fundamental role in supporting the development of an innovative and competitive energy infrastructure.

In order to do so it is necessary to encourage the establishment of policies and regulations capable of laying the foundations for renewables, seeking the best solutions and encouraging innovation for the sustainable development of the African energy system.

One of the factors upon which most attention is focused, Starace highlighted, is that of interconnection. “Many African countries do not have developed electricity networks and do not have interconnected networks between them, in particular between East and West Africa. It is necessary to pay great attention to this and to make governments understand that it is necessary to develop a system of interconnections,” concluded the Enel CEO.

There are many difficulties to overcome but there are also many innovative solutions on the horizon. Africa is rich in natural resources and most of the continent’s countries want to include renewables in their energy mix. It is a thrilling challenge for RES4Med and RES4Africa have a clear vision of how to succeed,” added Antonio Cammisecra, President of RES4Med and the new CEO of Enel Green Power, speaking at the conference. “All of Africa can be green. After having focused on the Mediterranean, now we want to focus our attention on Senegal, Ethiopia and Kenya where we see opportunities for development,” he concluded.

Renewable technologies and innovations are, therefore, the key to electrifying Africa in a sustainable manner. To do so it is fundamental to identify the business models best suited to a very different reality from that known by the big European utilities. The objective of the conference is precisely to outline an energy model tailored to the requirements of the African continent and, therefore, to analyse the most appropriate approach and operative models to encourage the development of projects to make electricity safe, green, accessible to a an increasing number of Africans.

Thus emerged the importance of diverse and innovative business models such as the mini-grid, off-grid, the development of urban and sub-urban networks and stand alone systems for energy access.

Africa is increasingly becoming a test bed for technological experimentation capable of providing a fundamental contribution to the future of the sector. Solutions such as the mini-grid that combines the use of batteries with renewables represents a valid response to the problem of energy access in addition to serving as a catalyst for development,” underlined Francesco Venturini, Director of the Division Global E-Solutions Enel and former CEO of EGP.