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Room for improvement! Look to global solutions

This article first appeared in ESI-Africa Edition 1, 2019. You can read the magazine’s articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

Africa’s generation capacity is increasing as new power plants come online, such as Kenya’s Lake Turkana Wind Farm that injected 307MW into the national grid in mid-January, but this growth in megawatts is not necessarily translating into increased distribution and electrification rates.

Even though the so-called ‘last mile’ of national grids requires enormous infrastructure investment to keep pace with generation growth, it is transmission – sometimes over vast distances – that is a major stumbling block in the whole electricity supply network. Energy experts Elsie Mbugua and Mark Hughes put it bluntly, stating that “transmission remains a neglected part of the power sector value chain across Africa”. Fortunately, there are several global projects that African countries can look to for inspiration and solutions in securing investment and attracting partners for transmission projects (see page 20).

With a stable electricity value chain, African countries can concentrate on developing their manufacturing, industrial works, tourism, and mining; this is where the most significant potential for job creation lies. However, with so much room for improvement, what do you focus on to deliver much-needed electricity? One way to supply reliable and affordable electricity as an economic driver is through baseload generation technologies. Investment into projects for baseload sources, which consist mainly of coal-fired power, nuclear energy and hydropower, require substantial funding. Another constraining factor is around environmental concerns: coal equates to carbon emission; nuclear produces radioactive waste; and hydro constrains rivers. Should Africa therefore not benefit from these resources?

It’s a question that raises much debate. Hence the articles on pages 30, 46 and 48 explore interesting angles on the future of coal in the energy mix; how new nuclear reactor designs can overcome the cost factor and possibly contribute to decentralised power; and using newly developed guidelines to maximise Africa’s vast hydropower potential.

Now is the time to take bold steps. Doing business in Africa has a moderately brighter appeal than last year as the African Development Bank’s 2019 African Economic Outlook report reflects a general recovery in economic performance. The Bank projects GDP growth to accelerate to 4.0% this year and 4.1% in 2020 and highlights the importance of public investment in acting as a catalyst to private investment, particularly in core infrastructure (see page 10).

The continent’s utility sector is primed to implement the latest technologies, but the risk of non-payment is still a top concern. It is therefore heartening that companies offering products and services can now find support in agencies and councils who specialise in facilitating trade (see pages 52 & 53). There are also B2B platforms, such as the African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa conference and exhibition (see pages 56 – 67) where utility buyers and sellers can meet face-to-face. Using these available platforms, finding global solutions for Africa’s unique utility space is made so much easier to undertake. Let 2019 be the year that delivers new partnerships and outstanding progress!

Until the next edition.

Nicolette | Editor | ESI Africa

This article first appeared in ESI-Africa Edition 1, 2019. You can read the magazine’s articles here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.