The energy landscape is shifting from centralised power plants to decentralised generation, including residential and industrial generating sources. This interest in distributed energy resources (DER) such as rooftop solar photovoltaic is growing worldwide – with new regulations and standards are being introduced for various market role players – changing our cities’ skylines.
The Big Question we asked the experts is: What are Africa’s cities and metros doing to encourage the uptake of distributed energy resources?
CEO of Clean Technology Hub, Nigeria
More than half of the world’s population currently resides in cities due to expanded urbanization. This has led to increased energy demand accounting for about 65% of global energy demand just from cities alone. The United Nations estimates that over 6 billion people will be city dwellers in 2050, and will come from African and Asian cities.
In Africa alone, this will potentially lead to the creation of nine megacities of more than 10 million people each, with the largest being Kinshasa, Lagos and Cairo. This increasing population on the continent will have immense implications for the already stressed resources of cities, particularly in the areas of water, housing, energy, food and security.
Since the adoption of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 by most countries – with Goal 11 focused on achieving sustainable cities and communities; and Goal 7, which focuses on ensuring everyone has access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services by 2030 – there is a race by cites and municipalities to increasingly take steps to transition from dirty energy sources to cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. For example, Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, generates its energy using geothermal energy, and the City of Basel in Switzerland has established a fund for energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon reduction projects, as well as ensuring that new buildings in the city and public facilities generate 50% of their warm water using renewable energy.
Several African cities have also began to recognise the enormous potential decentralised renewable energy can play in meeting its growing energy needs. Nairobi is emulating Reykjavik by tapping into its geothermal resources to increase its electricity mix and has enacted a regulation that requires large buildings to use solar energy, thus reducing pressure on the national grid.
Rwanda is currently developing Africa’s first green city within Kigali to be powered completely by renewable energy; whilst Accra in Ghana has since 2017 initiated an incentive programme which offers a 10% reduction in the building permit fee if the applicant includes a 20kW solar PV system in the design. In Nigeria, Lagos has an existing climate change policy and action plan and within Lagos State, Eko Atlantic City – officially Nigeria’s international city – in January 2020 secured its first-ever EDGE certification from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank.
Still in Nigeria: Kano, Kaduna and Abuja are developing holistic urban strategies to decentralise their energy sources using renewables, and cities like Jos (in Plateau State), in partnership with Blue Camel Energy, have carried out one of the largest solar street lighting projects on the continent. ASteven Solar, as part of its ‘Decarbonising Energy Transitions in Africa’, installed the first Solar Mini Grid tunnel in Africa across three locations in the city of Illorin (in Kwara State). Two of the three installations are already completed and upon completion of the third, it is billed to be the largest reality Mini Grid project in Nigeria with a total of 25.57KM transmission span.
Despite these measures, a lot more work still needs to be done by African municipal governments to decentralise their energy sources through broader measures including; setting up sustainable targets and goals, developing sustainable strategies and roadmaps, domiciling existing federal renewable energy policies and regulations to attract private sector investment for clean and alternative energy sources in their cities.
There is also the need for cities and municipalities to provide incentives for decentralised energy developers and distributors as well as encourage potential consumers through tax rebates and tax breaks for small businesses and home owners. These measures will not only advance decentralised energy generation but drive sustainable and economic development throughout the continent.
Researcher: Power Futures Lab/MIRA, UCT GSB, South Africa
As Africa’s energy demand continues to grow at twice the speed of the global average, the falling costs of renewable energy technologies lend themselves to closing the shortage gap. This means that countries across the continent need to have well-functioning electricity systems that can ensure access, reliability, efficiency and affordability. These systems have formerly been designed to retain centralisation, but due to the increased number of renewable energy systems – particularly solar and wind – the future of electricity generation will become more decentralised.
In the past, big economies of scale were recognised as international best practice. Traditionally, increasing electrification meant expanding transmission networks over hundreds of kilometres to transport electricity from conventional power plants (i.e. big coal infrastructure) usually located in a single region to others. But, the changing nature of electricity generation means that existing systems need to adapt with flexibility and resilience.
Traditional national grids will certainly continue to perform an integral role in the energy access solutions of the future. However, technological innovations in renewable energy have the potential to significantly increase access for those that are inadequately served by grids through decentralisation. This is already happening as seen in the rapid expansion of decentralised solar solutions in East Africa, which have also begun spreading in West Africa – particularly in rural and peri-urban settings.
But, what about the role of metros and cities?
Africa’s cities have the potential to secure sustainability in the supply of electricity through decentralised generation. But, this potential has often been thwarted by regulations that do not address immediate challenges to energy security or serve the changing landscape of the energy system.
Using South Africa as a prime example of this, generation capacity shortages – together with other factors such as mismanagement, spiralling primary energy costs, an outdated utility business model and an impeding attitude towards reform – led to the national power utility, Eskom, implementing rolling blackouts at unprecedented levels in 2019 and 2020. This severely impacted municipalities and their service delivery mandates because of the revenues lost from electricity sales.
A number of metros desperately sought to procure their own power; however, electricity legislation at the time limited the extent to which cities could build their own capacity by way of embedded generation, and regulations prohibited the direct procurement of power from independent power producers (IPPs).
If regulations permitted, not only would cities ensure that municipal revenues remain uncompromised, but some degree of pressure would have been alleviated off an embattled Eskom. Only recently, after many calls for regulatory reform, the South African government has committed to relaxing some of these regulations. Thus illustrating the crucial role that cities will increasingly play in the energy system.
Shifting to the broader African context, national policies across the continent need to support the role of cities in the energy system – particularly with regards to relaxing restrictions that hinder the uptake of decentralised generation. Cities can serve as agents for transforming the energy system. Their role in securing sustainability in electricity supply should not be underestimated. ESI