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Find ways to store the electricity generated from solar, wind and other renewables, and these technologies may cease to be ‘intermittent’ sources of power – a game-changer that is expected to transform Africa’s electricity supply industry in the next decade or two. “Storage will make a lot of difference to the shape of the grid,” observed Gravitricity managing director and co-founder Charlie Blair, predicting that networks will emerge “without big spines and instead more of a nodal system”.

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The African Development Bank (AfDB) announced on 29 June that South Korea’s Ministry of Economy and Finance (MoEF) and the Export-Import Bank of Korea had signed an agreement to provide $600m to co-finance energy projects in Africa. It adds to the glut of funds targeting the African power sector, but oversupply of donor money – or undersupply of projects – is driving interest rates down and causing concern amongst financiers.

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The impact of coronavirus on construction and project completions was underlined by figures for Q1 2020 produced by African Energy Live Data and presented at a 6 July Africa Investment Exchange (AIX) webinar on Africa power negotiations. This showed that only 240MW of net installed capacity was added in Q1 2020 (as a total of 438MW was installed but several big rental contracts ended). If this performance continued across the year, there would be a historic low in the installation of new generation capacity.

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A significant market is emerging across the continent for renewables-based commercial and industrial (C&I) energy projects. In all but a handful of markets, the talk is of a potential that will soon be measured in gigawatts, rather than the usual dozens (at most) of megawatts of an established business. As Kenya-based Astonfield Solar’s chairman Ameet Shah puts it, the technology is still in its early days – as in some cases is the quality of its delivery to clients – but the C&I industry will reach lift-off even before the ‘transformational’ 24-hour storage becomes the norm.

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A few far-sighted public officials and private equity investors have been looking at transmission and distribution (T&D) as the next big thing for the African electricity supply industry for some time. Momentum is building behind this, underlined by the recent creation of T&D-focused Gridworks by UK government-owned investor CDC. Many participants interpreted the unexpectedly large audience for the T&D session at the 13-14 November AIX: Power and Renewables meeting in London as a sign of changing times that could herald a major breakthrough in sub-Saharan Africa.

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As African Energy editor Thalia Griffiths leaves to explore new opportunities, colleagues asked for her take on developments after 23 years leading the publication. For all the tragedies like the current Ethiopian conflict, she sees real hope for a better future on a continent where, in many places, governance has improved and previously marginalised populations are becoming empowered to enact positive change.

Ghana | Mozambique | South Sudan | Angola | Nigeria | Uganda