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A copy of Jon Marks' presentation, delivered to Power & Electricity World Africa on the 16 March 2016

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Commercial and industrial (C&I) power has experienced a tremendous boom in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), as companies look for alternatives to failing state utilities, not least in the continent’s largest economies South Africa and Nigeria.

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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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Initial responses to the UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21)’s 12 December Paris Agreement ranged from the euphoric, declaring a historic deal that could save the world, to the grimly pragmatic. Most participants declared the 13 days of negotiations and months of work that preceded them a success for France and the 197 governments that signed the 12-page pact to cut global greenhouse gas emissions. Running parallel to the global deal, COP21 put Africa at the forefront of an international negotiation, reflecting the continent’s perceived role as essential new driver of global growth and burgeoning flows of financing for renewable energy, improved access and efficiency from commitments confirmed in Paris.

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Viewed from Harare, it is business as usual on all fronts: European Union and US sanctions continue to inconvenience President Robert Mugabe and key members of his regime; swathes of the population (including the estimated 4m Zimbabweans living abroad) despair of genuine political change that can unlock the country’s huge potential. However, after a 16 March referendum approved a new constitution, elections will follow by 29 June at the latest. Off the record, leaders of coalition partner the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) say their horizons are limited to winning extra seats and obtaining more ministerial posts in the next government. This recognises the effective hold that Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF), backed by a powerful securocrat elite, exerts over power.

Zimbabwe
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For too long only a fraction of proposed projects have seen the light of day, but while it is too early to say the African power industry has turned a corner, signs of progress were reflected at EnergyNet’s Africa Energy Forum (AEF) in Berlin on 26-28 June. Veteran southern African project financier Clive Ferreira observed that the African power sector continues to underperform significantly. Projects take too long to reach financial close, procurement processes are not transparent, and low tariffs make investment unattractive. Few could disagree with Ferreira’s conclusion that it is “difficult to make private power work under these circumstances”.

Kenya | Nigeria | Ethiopia | South Africa
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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
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Much of the news flow ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November has been about which global leaders will turn up and what carbon reduction commitments they will make. Many in Africa are more concerned the least-developed continent will be forced to adopt ill-fitting policy straightjackets and forced to choose between rival superpower-led development models, most notably China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative (BRI) and the US-led Clean Green Initiative (CGI) and Build Back Better for the World (B3W) programmes.

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We all agree: the future is necessarily based on renewable energy and storage solutions, as economies, corporations and communities work to tackle the climate crisis by achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Africa understands the need for this better than most, as vulnerable populations in regions like the Sahel suffer the consequences of global warming on their daily lives and resource distribution.

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The purchase of BG Group by Royal Dutch Shell confirmed predictionsthat the falling oil price would trigger a spate of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in the upstream industry. It points to a need for even the biggest players to build scale in developing their natural gas trade; for Shell, BG’s assets in Australia and the Atlantic Basin (Brazil) will help to secure a dominant position in Asian and other key markets for liquefied natural gas (LNG).

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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
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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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Uncomfortable financial disputes are expected to dominate the 27th United Nations Climate Change (COP27) conference, to be held in the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh on 6-18 November. African nations may achieve progress in some areas – perhaps by forcing the vexed question of compensation for loss and damage onto the agenda – but the meeting will likely once again fail to identify a way forward for electricity supply industries (ESIs) across the continent.