Renewables can help feed Africa’s power needs, experts say

The dearth of power generation in Africa is a result of an insufficiently trained workforce, ill-conceived government projects and corruption that stagnates or impedes development, speakers said Thursday at the Texas Africa Business Summit at Rice University.

Government officials and business leaders from Africa and Texas spoke about opportunities for improved trade and shared economic growth in agriculture, energy, health and other industries during the event, hosted by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

Former Texas Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor, moderating a panel on Africa’s energy sector, said the electrification rate in Africa has grown by 35 percent to 45 percent in the past six years. Swaths of the continent, however, remain in the dark.

“Six hundred million Africans have no access to electricity in day-to-day life,” Connor said, noting that power produced in some  regions of the continent often is reserved for the wealthy and government officials.

“Power and energy in Africa should be a rising tide that lifts all boats,” he said. “Electrification and power generation in Africa is very low compared tot he rest of the world. and that imbalance has to be redressed if they are to progress.”

African nations produce millions of barrels of crude oil per day, largely for export, speakers noted. Because of the lack of refining facilities and infrastructure, they also import 400 to 500 thousand barrels of refined fuels per day, with additional costs for transport tacked on.

“The crude oil travels to the Middle East, Europe, the US., gets processed and shipped back at a very high cost for them to buy,” said Mike Nassar, CEO of Energy Allied International, an energy projects development firm.

The continent produces 5 percent of the world’s coal, 8 percent of its natural gas and 12 percent of its petroleum, Connor noted. Because of the value of petroleum on the world market, state leaders tend to export it instead of using it for domestic needs.

And the continent’s fossil fuel resources are diminishing, with Algeria and Angola having just 20 years of proven reserves remaining. Nigeria, Connor said, has 40 years.

“This current generation has to make decisions about what to do when the oil is not there anymore,” Connor said.

The continent has other options for powering its communities, he noted. Because of Africa’s abundant sun and river systems, there are renewable power options for many countries, speakers said. Solar power in some parts of Africa can generate twice the voltage as in peak areas of Europe, Connor added.

“Africa has some of the highest levels of solar radiation in the world and tremendous hydropower potential,” said Wayne White, managing director of WoodRock & Co.