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Lights, Power, Action — electrifying Africa
March 27, 2017, 12:42 pm

Africa Progress Panel (APP), a non-profit foundation, is headed by ten distinguished individuals from the private and public sectors who advocate for equitable and sustainable development for Africa. These individuals with their formidable capability to access the worlds of politics, business, diplomacy and civil society at the highest levels, globally and in Africa, function in a unique policy space. Leveraging the cutting-edge analysis, advocacy and diplomacy of APP, the members use their ability to influence diverse decision-makers to bring about needed policy changes to help transform Africa.

The panel’s annual flagship report in 2015 titled, ‘Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities’, explored the links between energy, climate and development in Africa. It documented the risks that would come with a business-as-usual approach and highlighted the opportunities for African leaders.

As a global community, the report stated, we have the technology, finance and ingenuity to make the transition to a low-carbon, renewable energy future, but so far we have lacked the political leadership and practical policies needed to break the link between energy and emissions. The report concluded that Africa is well placed to be part of that leadership.

Since its publication, the APP has carried out high-level advocacy for the report’s recommendations on climate and energy policy, working closely with a wide range of partners. Now, in a new policy paper, intended as a follow-up to their flagship report of 2015, the APP seeks to build on the political momentum that has been created over the past year to increase energy access in Africa.

In the foreword to the policy paper, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel laureate, Kofi Annan, who chairs the APP, noted: Africa’s energy needs are massive. They are also urgent. The traditional way of expanding energy access — increasing electricity generation capacity and extending the grid — is still vital. But it is slow. We have to electrify Africa faster. The cost of not taking action is clear. Economic growth, industrialization, jobs, business, sustainable agriculture and social development all depend on governments making energy a top priority.

Other extracts from the foreword include: Many countries have set ambitious targets for increasing energy access or for advancing other elements of the energy transition. At the core of Africa’s electricity system, the utilities that manage national grids are following an international path towards greater efficiency and accountability, by separating generation, transmission and distribution. Governments are amending electricity laws and improving regulatory frameworks, clearing a path for investors. Independent power producers are increasing the involvement of the private sector and showing how to scale up renewable power generation capacity.

But building and extending grid infrastructure can be slow; even before the work can start, legal, financial and technical frameworks have to be adjusted or created from scratch. The 620 million Africans who lack electricity cannot wait — and should not have to wait. Luckily, mini-grid and off-grid energy solutions are plentiful. Africans are rapidly adopting and adapting them, particularly to meet the needs of areas that are remote or neglected by the grid.

Off-grid and mini-grid power by renewable sources of energy has a crucial role to play in meeting the three great energy challenges that African governments face: providing all their citizens with access to secure and affordable energy services; building the energy infrastructure needed to drive inclusive growth and create jobs; and limiting carbon emissions.

To meet these challenges, governments must also look beyond their own borders and think on a continental scale. Five regional power pools have been created that cover the continent. But so far, only 8 percent of electricity is traded across borders — and those power pools are not connected to one another. To unlock Africa’s energy potential for all Africans, governments must cooperate to ensure regional power trade thrives.

Fortunately, the future looks promising for African energy cooperation, with several new frameworks emerging. In 2015, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) established the Africa Power Vision, and the African Development Bank launched its New Deal on Energy for Africa. Both reflect the increased commitment to ensuring universal access to modern energy, and adequate power to enable economic growth and prosperity. The African Development Bank has made energy one of its five top priorities.

Africa made its voice heard at the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) in Paris, where governments came together to agree a far-reaching, legally binding deal aimed at keeping global warming below 2°C. African governments must now play their full part in delivering on their Paris pledges. They made their commitment clear in Paris by launching the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, an unprecedented effort to give all Africans access to energy that is based on renewable sources by 2030.

In return, Africans have a right to expect more and better international support for low-carbon energy. After all, they have contributed least to the underlying problem. That support should include technical and financial assistance for developing renewable power, on-grid and off-grid.

Bilateral and multilateral donors have pledged billions of dollars to Africa’s energy transition, but little of that money is moving yet. If funds don’t start arriving in2017, countries may lose heart, and leaders who fought for the Paris agreement may face attack at home and be undermined. Donors need to realize that Africa’s energy imperative is urgent – not just for Africa but for the world. Investing in the continent’s clean energy is a key way to put the planet on a low-carbon growth path.

At home, African governments have a vital task to do, one that goes to the heart of the continent’s energy problems: fixing national energy grids that are unreliable and financially fragile. Many energy utilities suffer from mismanagement and inefficiency, reflected in failures to set tariffs, collect revenue, support private partnerships and investments in energy and stem major energy losses in transmission and distribution.

A lack of accountability and transparency nurtures corruption. In our report, no finding brings this home more forcefully than the fact that some electricity theft — a problem across the continent — is carried out by a few government organizations, including the armed forces in some countries.

Across the continent, there is a general acceptance that modern energy is an indispensable ingredient of the growth and progress that Africa needs to bring prosperity to every citizen – women and men, rural and urban, of every ethnicity and every origin.

Africa stands at a crossroads. There is global attention and support for fixing Africa’s energy problems, interest from investors, and demand from Africans for rapid expansion of reliable and carbon-friendly power. There are successes to build on. It’s time for African leaders to act. We know what to do. Every generation to come depends on us getting it right.

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