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While renewables projects in North Africa have been making progress – led by Moroccan solar development agency Masen’s 125MW first concentrated solar power phase of the 500MW Ouarzazate scheme – the most highly publicised, ambitious scheme of all, the Desertec Industrial Initiative (Dii), is struggling to convince sceptics it can revolutionise patterns of electricity generation south of the Mediterranean and of supply within the European Union area.

Morocco
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Africa is expected to be a driver of global growth in coming decades, but its nature will be different from that predicted when emerging markets boomed and investors saw an escape from stagnant developed economies in apparently untapped markets. A realistic view is that there are likely to be more pockets of prosperity around the continent, and economies such as China will continue to grow, albeit less quickly. But how to plan for the future in a deeply uncertain environment?

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South Africa’s energy security remains fragile as load shedding continues to weigh on GDP – which is forecast to be little over 1% in 2014 – and generation output in late 2014 into 2015 could be further constrained by even more frequent power cuts. Margins remain dangerously fine, as was underlined when a collapsed coal silo at the 4,110MW-capacity Majuba facility – Eskom’s second largest (and youngest, commissioned in 2001) coal-fired plant – plunged much of the country into darkness on 2 November. Majuba’s generation output was halved from 3.6GW to 1.8GW, and then fell to a low of 600MW.

South Africa
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There is consensus on the need to scale up renewables, off-grid, combined-cycle gas and other generation schemes if sub-Saharan Africa is to overcome its gaping electricity supply and access deficits (see Power). Huge investment is required to create transmission backbones and commercially sustainable distribution networks. To achieve these ambitious aims, ever more institutions and initiatives are looking to marry public funds with private investment. But there is another category of stakeholder, which has an essential role to play as offtaker and focal point of the electricity supply industry but whose performance often falls short: national utilities.

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Southern African governments have been slow to recognise the potential of regional power pools to draw investment into their countries. Most have seen the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) through a resource nationalist lens...

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As Africa enters the 2020s, issues of climate change and sustainability have gained greater urgency even if not everyone agrees on the way ahead. With desertification and water shortages affecting many regions, Africa has joined the stop-start transition away from a carbon-based economy; the percentage of on- and off-grid renewables is growing in the energy mix, with solar, and to a lesser extent wind, taking a lead, promoted by large public procurement projects and ever more private initiatives.

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Launched by President Barack Obama in Cape Town one year ago, the US Power Africa initiative has been making bold claims about its early successes in a campaign to boost sub-Saharan Africa’s installed generation capacity by some 10GW and connect some 20m more homes and businesses to the grid by 2020 (AE 258/5). Power Africa claims it will make some $7bn available in financial support and loan guarantees from 12 government agencies, led by the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), Overseas Private Investment Corporation and US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA).

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Some African governments specialise in grandiose statements about mega-projects that will drive the continent’s electrification or achieve some other transformational goal. In many cases little happens, but the mega-project provides a useful symbol of rapprochement between two states. The Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (TSGP) planned by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo and Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika is one example still prominent on the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa project list.

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Project developers and financiers spend inordinate amounts of time and money assessing risks and their mitigation. But when traditional credit and political risk calculations are being made, they still too often overlook the populations whose land they are building on, even if they think they have community engagement in hand. Disgruntled populations may express their frustration and even violently turn on developments that seem beyond their control, and that threaten their (sometimes literally) sacred home turf.

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Twenty years ago, a new publication was launched to fill a gap in FT Energy’s global map: African Energy created in April 1998 as a monthly report, meant the Financial Times subsidiary could claim to cover the world; previously, its stable of newsletters and online products had largely ignored Africa. African Energy opened its account with news that financing for the planned $3.5bn Chad-Cameroon pipeline was falling into place. That controversial project was eventually built, while others have taken longer to leave the drawing board.

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The issues that African Energy covers have risen much higher up the global agenda than seemed likely when the first issue was published in April 1998, when global concern about sub-Saharan Africa’s struggle to provide electricity to hard-pressed populations and industrial users, and the continent’s potential to provide energy to a fast-changing global economy driven by growth in emerging markets, seemed considerably less than now.

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Gas-fuelled power projects have an important role to play in Africa, according to African Energy Live Data’s figures. The Africa-wide database lists 313 operating gas-fired plants, with 84,226MW of installed capacity; another 39 plants are under construction (with total 32,933MW capacity) and 156 are planned (66,921MW). The majority are utility-scale facilities supplying national grids; Live Data records 206 of these as operational (75,487MW), 33 under construction (28,754MW) and 119 planned (58,061MW).

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The most abundant element on earth, hydrogen, already has industrial uses, but it could do much more to transform the global energy mix as industrialised economies and the global south decarbonise. Judged by the welter of governmental and corporate statements, hydrogen is featuring large in the thoughts of planners and project promoters. These range from Chinese hydrocarbons giant Sinopec’s plans to reallocate some of its Rmb87bn ($13bn) cash pile to projects “all along the hydrogen chain” to Australian junior miner AVZ Minerals’ green lithium mine project at Manono in Democratic Republic of Congo.

DR Congo | South Africa
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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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Kenya’s incoming government will do well to learn from previous efforts to reform the electricity supply industry. It will be guided by a new energy white paper, which offers a roadmap to 2040 and which could help Kenya move towards upper-middle-income status. African Energy usually writes its own Views, but such is the plan’s importance that we asked a prominent industry player to assess the proposals and the industry’s direction of travel. The writer has asked to remain anonymous so as not to prejudice their position.

Kenya