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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”.

Free

It may be symbolic that, beyond the state-run grid, Tanzania provides an enticing opportunity for innovative investors to build businesses in marginalised communities with aspirations to move beyond energy poverty. Tanzania has been a pioneer in the sub-Saharan off-grid revolution, where mini-grid operator Jumeme and other innovators have been able to build their businesses. Germany’s Redavia last year began operating its first two mini-grids, supported by InfraCo Africa.

Tanzania
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With all the talk about leapfrogging the grid, it is surprising how little the possible implications have filtered through to the debate about tariffs. The Africa Investment Exchange: Power and Renewables conference in London on 15-16 November saw a lively discussion about potential grid ‘disruptors’, in particular low-cost, small-scale renewable power sold directly to consumers. The technology has huge potential to provide clean power to households and industry at a fraction of the cost of the grid.

Free

There are signs of movement, at last, on bidding for flagship solar and other renewables projects, to be installed at either end of the continent. 

Morocco | South Africa
Free

Having emerged from its elections in May – the first since the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi, who dominated its politics in the last two decades – and with the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front remaining intact amid some cautious generational change, Ethiopia’s leadership is determined to accelerate openings to investment and consolidate the country’s position as the political and economic dominant force in the Horn of Africa. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has surprised some observers by reinforcing his position at home, continuing the Meles legacy but in his own style; his government will continue to promote the ‘developmental state’ policies that have delivered 10%-plus annual growth in the last decade, to drive Ethiopia towards middle income status by 2025.

Ethiopia
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Senegal is a relatively small economy with a reputation for competent, if sometimes flawed, governance of its limited resources. The prospect of an administration with a taste for joined-up government tapping recently identified offshore gas resources, and attracting investment in its abundant solar and wind resources, suggests that President Macky Sall’s Plan Sénégal Emergent strategy to achieve emerging market status by 2035 is not overblown.

Senegal
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US President Barack Obama was expected to make headline-grabbing announcements on the Tanzanian phase of his first extended trip to Africa, which started on 26 June. Of more long-term consequence is the great debate that rumbles on over how Tanzania should use its offshore reserves, now estimated at 150tcf of natural gas. International oil companies (IOCs), other potential investors and their advisers are expressing great frustration at the slow pace of decision-making, while Tanzanian policymakers say more time is needed to make momentous decisions for the economy and society.

Tanzania
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The incomplete and low-key bulletin announcing the selection of 17 new power plants for South Africa’s renewable energy independent power producer procurement (REIPPP) programme on 29 October demonstrated not only the government’s shifting energy focus, but also conflicts underlying the process itself. Recently appointed minister Dikobe Ben Martins comes with a reputation for implementation, and there is no doubt that the energy sector needs it. With delays at all three of Eskom’s new power plants – which are shut down for a safety inspection following the deaths of six contract workers at Ingula pumped storage plant – and nuclear, gas and cogeneration plans that are behind schedule, Martins’ efforts are likely to be directed away from the REIPPP in the short term.

South Africa
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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.

Free

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s in-tray would terrify almost any political leader. He will watch the US election results with special interest after President Donald Trump signalled his frustration over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam by observing that Egypt would “end up blowing up the dam and… they have to do something”. Trump blamed Ethiopia for failed negotiations chaired by the United States earlier this year.

Ethiopia
Free

Efforts to mitigate climate change, while electricity supply industries, transport networks and other big consumers of energy are put on a more sustainable, less carbon-intense footing, will rise sharply up the global agenda in 2021, ahead of the next big round of climate talks to be held on 1-12 November in Glasgow. This is likely to involve a rush into green bonds, new project financing and other instruments that could significantly increase the pace of Africa’s shift into a more sustainable energy future.

Free

The Department of Energy has released the draft Integrated Energy Planning (IEP) report for public consultation “as part of a process to formulate an integrated energy plan, which will outline a recommended energy roadmap for South Africa and guide investment decisions”. A period of public discussion will follow, as different stakeholder groups try to hammer out consensus on a sustainable long-term trajectory for the country (the IEP looks towards 2050). The IEP – with the expected new Integrated Resource Plan – will encompass Eskom’s plans for more coal-fired capacity, and also consolidate the so far successful effort to install major renewables capacity; it should also push forward the debate over new gas and nuclear infrastructure.

South Africa
Free

It hardly needs saying that a strong South Africa is vital if a more integrated, sustainable and equitable Africa is to emerge. The continent’s second-largest economy (after Nigeria re-evaluated its GDP) is still a magnet for business; big construction projects continue to rise across Johannesburg. Throughout the country, forward-thinking South Africans retain a sense of what is morally right and also a taste for innovation. But there are also many conservative elements and vested interests – starting within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) – that are holding back gains.

South Africa
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Zimbabwe is highly unlikely to eradicate the crony capitalist structures that have favoured the Mugabe clan and other Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) grandees any time soon. But the president’s departure could favour a measured transition, building on initiatives to normalise the economy undertaken by regime officials such as Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) governor John Mangudya and Zimbabwe Power Company (ZPC) managing director Noah Fari Gwariro. Even at 92 years old, it seems imprudent to write off President Robert Mugabe, whose ruthless political cunning has seen off international sanctions and domestic challenges.

Zimbabwe
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There was little surprise when SunEdison filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on 21 April, given the scale of its fall from grace – from nearly $10bn market capitalisation in mid-2015 to a 99% share price collapse and emergency asset sales less than one year later. The US developer’s crisis poses questions about the future of its substantial portfolio – which includes five projects with combined 371MW capacity in South Africa, awarded in the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement (REIPPP) programme’s expanded fourth round – and the health of the wider solar industry.