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Uncertainty marks Africa energy outlook

By , ITWeb
21 Feb 2012

Uncertainty marks Africa energy outlook

Energy prices, energy poverty, and instability in the Middle East and North Africa region are the top critical uncertainties in Africa`s energy sector, according to a new survey released by the World Energy Council (WEC).

For the first time, the annual World Energy Issues Monitor includes a survey offering the insights of African leaders on the continent`s energy sector. They identify the key uncertainties, as well as areas requiring further action to ensure the sustainable supply and use of energy.

Other important issues making an impact in the African energy space include renewable energy, energy efficiency, and regional interconnection. Further action is needed to realise their potential, however, as these areas face constraints of investment, suitable social and environmental frameworks, political stability, and economic reforms.

Innovation in ICT-based solutions like smart grids and sustainable cities is drawing interest, but progressing towards these systems requires tackling questions of technology transfer, capacity building and policymaking, as well as governance and corruption.

The survey also reveals that energy poverty is considered a more prominent issue in Africa than in any other region, with close to 60% of its population lacking access to electricity. Speaking at the announcement of the survey at the Africa Energy Indaba, being held in Sandton this week, WEC secretary-general Christoph Frei said: “There is no single `silver bullet` solution for the varied nature of Africa`s energy challenges.

“Each African country needs to find its own way of balancing the trade-offs between the three dimensions of the `energy trilemma` to ensure security of supply, affordability of prices, and respect for the environment.”

In an address at the indaba`s opening yesterday, energy minister Dipuo Peters said SA must balance the need to provide electricity to drive social and economic change with the environmental concerns that come with 92% of the country`s electricity being generated by coal.

“Immediate benefits for the environment can be achieved in SA in the short term if we all just consider how we are using electricity and take action on a personal level to reduce waste,” Peters added.

The minister said renewable energies also had an important role to play in energy provision. “We need to leverage the available technologies for solar, wind, biomass and biogas that could contribute significantly in scaling up access to energy for Africa`s people and businesses, while simultaneously putting the continent on a green and low-carbon development path.”

She noted that SA, like other African countries, was well endowed with renewable energy resources such as solar and wind. “However, we still have a huge task of developing them to their full potential.”

The World Energy Issues Monitor also features regional surveys covering Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America, outlining concerns and issues drawn from energy leaders in over 90 countries.

A paper released last week by the world`s foremost climate scientists, including James Hansen, Amory Lovins, James Lovelock and Nicholas Stern, as well as several environmental and development organisations, stressed the need for governments to move swiftly towards a green economy.

“Universal access to clean energy services is vital for the poor, and a transition to a low carbon economy will require rapid technological evolution in the efficiency of energy use, environmentally sound low-carbon renewable energy sources and carbon capture and storage,” the group said in a statement.

“To transition to a more sustainable future will require simultaneously redesigning the economic system, a technological revolution, and, above all behavioural change,” they added.

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