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Africa must move to smarter power mix

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Africa has no choice but to move rapidly towards a smart mix of energy systems if it is to grow and prosper in step with the rest of the world.
This is the word from Jubril Adewale Tinubu, group chief executive of Nigeria’s Oando, speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa. He says more than half of the people in Africa have no access to power on a daily basis and conventional energy grids will not meet the massive and growing demand anytime soon. So private-sector involvement, small-scale projects and renewable technology must be developed to help fill shortfalls.
Tinubu calls for governments to create enabling policies to allow the private sector to spur growth in the power sector. “There is limited capital available for large power generation projects, traditionally built by government, yet there is explosive demand.”
This makes power generation a good business opportunity – along with its obvious social benefits, says Tinubu.
Erastus Mwencha, deputy chairperson of the African Union inAddis Ababa, comments: “Africa does not have time for traditional power roll-outs. The continent cannot transform without power. It cannot educate its children without power. Obviously, we need to move to a power mix, a diversity of technologies.”
Mwencha notes that the much-anticipated Inga Dam hydro-electric project in West Africa holds enormous potential – such as the capacity to light up all of Africa and much of Europe at the same time – but pointed out that it will take some time to realize this potential.
Jasandra Nyker, CEO BioTherm Energy in South Africa, explains the much-applauded independent power producer programme in her country. “Since the advent of the programme in 2009, 2,3-gigawatts of renewable energy have been installed; that’s clean power into the national grid.”
Nyker adds that a number of private companies have taken up the opportunity provided by the South African government to contribute to power generation, with most of them “over-performing” in a relatively short space of time.
She says a similar urgency has been brought to bear on small, renewable projects in Burkina Faso and Uganda. “These might not be gigawatt-sized projects, but they are helping and adding value. The future of smart energy is very bright, with burgeoning business opportunities for both on- and off-grid technology.”
Power systems at the home level are proving highly successful, particularly in East Africa, said Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen.
“These systems are now ready for market and we need to accelerate methods of financing to truly scale them up.”
She says governments needed to “change the narrative” to make the likes of solar power systems an integral part of the energy mix. “The time has come for us not only to be enabling, but also to be accelerating this technology.”
Africa is potentially the largest power market in the world if one counts in all resources and demand, says Tinubu. “We have a wonderful opportunity to leapfrog out of poverty – simply by building robust energy generation.”