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Aminata Koné: “The energy transition cannot be limited to decarbonisation in Africa”

Today, 580 million people in Africa still do not have access to energy. A situation that was exacerbated by the Covid 19 crisis in 2020. In this interview, Aminata Koné, a regulatory analyst in the electricity sector, of Ivorian and Dutch origin, discusses the challenges of energy transition in Africa. 

How can we assess Africans’ access to energy today? 

Between 2014 and 2019, a record 20 million Africans gained access to electricity each year. This trend can be attributed in particular to the policies put in place by a few electrification “leaders”, such as Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Ghana and Senegal. Nevertheless, 580 million Africans still do not have access to energy (other than biomass). And the Covid-19 crisis has unfortunately complicated things : it is estimated that the number of Africans who do not have access to energy increased in 2020 for the first time since 2013. This is partly due to changes in government priorities and disruptions in energy value chains linked to the economic consequences of the crisis.

How to improve Africans’ access to energy in a context where the world is facing the harmful effects of climate change, especially in Africa?

The traditional way to increase energy supply is through fossil fuels. Their contribution to climate change, and Africa’s particular vulnerability to its consequences, make this path less and less viable. However, the challenges of access to energy and the development of clean energies can go hand in hand, as can be seen in the contribution of renewable energy (RE) to the electrification of rural areas in Africa.

Are renewable energies the ultimate solution to foster access to energy for all Africans?

The decentralised nature of renewable energies makes it possible to access to energy without being connected to the national electrical grid and at a lower cost: think of small-scale solar energy installations deployed on rooftops in remote areas. That said, there are still questions to be asked about the best strategy for deploying renewable energies in Africa, including sustainable financing, storage, equipment maintenance and the most suitable project developers.

Given the context of climate change, we often talk about energy transition. What is it?

Energy transition first of all refers to an adaptation of the modes of energy production and consumption in order to decarbonise them, by replacing a maximum of CO2 emitting energy sources with renewable energies, while ensuring security of supply and affordability of energy for consumers.

What are the challenges of this energy transition in Africa?

The energy transition cannot be limited to decarbonisation, especially in Africa, which is responsible for only 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. The African energy transition is an opportunity to rethink the energy system and its value chains in a profound way, by integrating in particular the axes of access to energy, empowerment of rural populations and resilience of infrastructures. This requires innovative public policies and well-targeted public and private investments.

How can this energy transition in Africa be accelerated, given that the European majors (Shell, Total, etc.) and even the African national companies are more focused in optimising hydrocarbon resources?

It must be admitted that there will still be a need for fuel and gas for security of energy supply over the coming decades and that a drop in demand represents a major economic risk for some African countries. For countries such as Nigeria, Angola and Algeria, oil accounts for 80-90% of exports and 10-30% of GDP.

In my opinion, the real question is how to make these industries part of the solution: let’s encourage them today to invest in biogas, RE-based hydrogen and clean mobility, for example.

Interviewed by Danielle Engolo