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‘Why Africa can’t replicate model of developed countries in energy access’

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PHOTO: KAREN BLEIER / AFP/Getty Images

Global energy experts are not convinced on the need to compel Africa to adopt the model being pushed by the developed countries in moving from fossil fuel to sustainable energy, especially the 2050 net-zero emission target.

To them, a fit-for-all approach to the energy challenge on the continent and push for replication of the model of developed countries on the continent would not be fair.

Chairholder, UNESCO Chair in Energy for Sustainable Development Politecnico di Milano Rector’s Delegate to Development and Cooperation, Prof. Emmanuela Colombo told The Guardian.

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Colombo, who added that the international community has a role to play, noted that “long term investments are needed, not just some temporary flagship project with maximum of 3-5 years span, but long term programme within the frame of a peer-to-peer relationship, whose benefit will go beyond Africa and energy per se.”

Colombo stated that apart from technologies, business models and policy, the international community should globally invest more to empower the continent with the right local institutional capacity for generating the native innovation that could act as a game changer.

“We have to recall that sustainable energy is a broader asset than renewable energy, Colombo said, stressing, “If Africa will not be provided with the affordable and reliable energy that its people deserve, no sustainable development may ever come to the continent.

“Moreover, in Africa, with special reference to some areas (like residential and industrial sectors) there is still much work that can be done toward efficiency in order to reduce the primary energy consumption and as a consequence current GHC emissions intensity in the continent,” she said.

Colombo believes that Africa needs to proceed at a fast pace towards complete electrification, which could be achieved with the decrease in the cost of small-scale power generation systems, especially mini-grids.

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Chief Executive Officer, Green Electricity Village Project, Nigeria, Ifeanyi Orajaka said Africa needs all possible sources of energy to achieve energy stability, warning however, that the “continent also needs to consider sustainability in its immediate, medium and long-term energy planning.”

Orajaka said that the government would be much more open to attracting players in driving energy access, adding that the result is currently being driven in the sector due to efforts by the Nigerian government.

“The government of Nigeria recently decided on their own to be a lot more open by creating enabling policies. That is what has led to a catalytic effect in attracting a lot of players from the private sector to actually drive the rate of energy access. I would say, this sort of policy initiatives should be amplified,” he said.

Orajaka had earlier noted that sustainable energy remained sacrosanct to economic and educational development of Nigeria and other African countries.

He noted that empowering local communities also remained critical beyond the provision of electricity, adding that by addressing rural electrification, communities are being impacted to contribute meaningfully to the economy while leading to improvement in food security.

Consultant and Faculty Member, Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law, University of Ibadan, Dr. Temilade Sesan stated that countries around the world had relied on the exploitation of locally available resources – oil, coal, gas – to meet their energy needs but that the paradigm may longer be sustained by rich and poor countries alike.

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To her, countries like Nigeria do have a point when they say they need to continue extracting fossil fuels if they are to have a shot at developing economically like rich countries did.

Sesan however, stressed that the development would come at a huge, irreversible environmental cost to everyone, and especially to poorer countries that are least able to spend their way out of a climate crisis.

Citing emerging issues across the world, Sesan said: “Once new energy preferences are established in key Western markets, energy prices will adjust to reflect the new consumer trends, and the rest of the world will really have no choice but to follow or get “stuck” with old technology.”

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation); Strathmore University, Kenya, Prof. Izael Da Silva added that it is economically strategic to use solar, wind, geothermal and hydro power stations to generate the electricity that the continent needs to jump out of poverty.

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