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Renewable energy will be a critical driver of Africa’s post-COVID-19 growth recovery and economic prosperity, panellists in a 2021 UK-Africa Investment Summit event said Wednesday, as they called for a stronger partnership between the United Kingdom and Africa.

The panel, themed UK & Africa: Partnering in Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure Development, covered discussion of British innovation and experience in the context of partnering with Africa to advance its economic development. Panel members said investment in large-scale electrification projects would be key.  

African countries are building back better from the coronavirus, said Louis Taylor, CEO, UK Export Finance, adding that this presents an “unalloyed opportunity for UK investors to be part of the African success story and for African countries to access the UK’s support for projects.”

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“The UK is still the ultimate one-stop-shop. The UK government is still the largest G7 investor in Africa. For instance, UK Export Finance is providing a £1.7 billion ($2.32 billion) guarantee to support the development of Cairo monorail in Egypt – the UK’s biggest ever overseas infrastructure guarantee,” Taylor said.

According to International Energy Agency data, scaling up Africa’s capacity to achieve universal access to energy by 2030 would require over $100 billion per year, of which 40% would be dedicated to solar, wind, and other low-carbon power generation projects.

The African Development Bank has taken the lead in accelerating the electrification of the continent through its New Deal on Energy for Africa, a transformative partnership-based strategy that aims to increase access to energy for all Africans.

“Building on the City of London’s deep expertise in innovative financial solutions, the African Development Bank sees promising opportunities to further expand its program to securitize receipts from solar home systems providers,” said Wale Shonibare, the Bank’s Director for Energy Financial Solutions, Policy and Regulation.

Sustainable infrastructure development

Shonibare called for a structured approach to sustainable infrastructure development and the implementation of large-scale electrification programmes, citing the Bank’s Desert to Power initiative as an example of a project likely to attract interest from UK businesses.  

Nicholas Oliver, Business Development Director of UK-based NMS Infrastructure Ltd, urged investors to engGE more actively with local companies: “We need to create partnerships with governments and local businesses. It is a great time to invest in Africa. The African Development Bank estimates that climate change presents a $3 trillion investment by 2030. What an opportunity,” he said.

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Olusola Lawson, co-managing director of African Infrastructure Investment Managers, an infrastructure investment management firm, noted the urgent need for access to energy in centres of high demand.  

“In Africa, you can’t have a transition without electrification. In this context, what we see is the trend from centralised large-scale power plants to a more distributive system.”

The UK-Africa Investment Conference, hosted by the UK Department for International Trade, brings together the UK and African businesses to explore the opportunities for partnership and investment.