In the vast continent of Africa with abundant indigenous energy sources and rapidly growing population, access to sustainable and affordable energy remains a challenge. Nearly 70% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) does not have access to electricity – approximately 621 million people. As far as clean technologies for cooking are concerned, the World Bank data show only a modest increase from 12.9% in 2000 to just 14.6% in 2014. Access rates vary geographically: While almost 100% of the citizens in North African countries enjoy access to electricity, the rate is only 23% in East Africa and 25% in Central Africa. Even where access to electrical grid is available, the service is often poor and unreliable. In the rural-urban division the figures are even more striking: 71% of the urban population have access compared to 28% of the rural population in SSA.
While 30% of global gas and oil discoveries in the past five years were in Africa the International Energy Agency projects that it will be just enough to cover the continent’s growing needs. Future projections are uncertain due to aged infrastructure, data limitations, social and environmental reasons. However, estimations reveal that gas production and coal use will continue to rise in the continent. Therefore indigenous sustainable energy sources have a great niche market potential in meeting the energy needs of the growing African population. The challenges to meet this need lie in attracting the private sector to complement public investments. Africa’s energy sector presents vast business and investment opportunities, able to boost growth and create jobs, particularly in the field of sustainable energy technologies.
The new European Consensus on Development and a renewed partnership with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP) focuses on the close coordination of two priorities: increasing access to sustainable and affordable energy and tackling climate change. The European Union and its Member States play a major role in the provision of aid for energy projects in the continent. For project investment, the former EU programmes for grant-based support have evolved into financing approaches based on loans, guarantees and equity and innovative financial blending that have the potential to multiple upscale the available investments.
All the three cooperating stakeholder groups (policy makers, business and science) have a specific role to play in the development of the continent to reach the above challenges. Between them the key function of the science stakeholders is collecting, structuring and providing relevant and up-to-date information to the other decision making groups. As a European research partner in the Africa-EU energy partnership, the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) has contributed with structured information, tools, setting up platforms and capacity building.
The development of electricity access in Africa has a very strong spatial dimension; due to the vast land areas and the distributed nature of renewable resources which already play a key role in analyses using geographic information systems (GIS) are particularly useful for evaluating the availability and economic feasibility of modern renewable energy sources.
JRC activities in the partnership
The JRC has systematically collaborated with partners such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECREEE - ECOWAS) gathering high quality renewable energy information about solar, wind, hydro, biomass and geothermal resources from Africa. In terms of JRC activities a consolidated technical and socio-economic base for assessing rural electrification projects was developed, defining the criteria to be used in the evaluation of grid extension versus off-grid solutions. REN2AF is a JRC-developed tool on sustainable energy planning for rural electrification. It analyses scenarios and compares off-grid photovoltaics (PV) and diesel generation options for the electrification of rural Africa.
The JRC and the Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) have created and maintain a web-based platform, the African and Renewable Energy Platform (AFRETEP) with the aim to assist the set-up of a network of 800+ members dealing with renewable energy, mainly from African research institutions. The AFRETEP platform has been migrated to the the European Commission’s knowledge sharing platform for development cooperation managed by DEVCO, where users from both continents can download datasets used in off-grid spatial analyses by the partner organisations.
The JRC also has organised three Capacity building workshops for African researchers and students. The workshops were realised in cooperation with African Universities in Uganda, Burkina Faso and South Africa. The aim was to enhance the multiplying effect by training trainers: the workshops have reached near 100 University teachers, practitioners having expertise in renewable energies, technologies, tools and rural electrification with specialised training.
In this context to test the tool applicability, the JRC team focused on practical applications to case countries (Burkina Faso, Tanzania) and identified low-hanging-fruit investment opportunities in Africa by assessing the energy use potential of existing infrastructure. In this the JRC worked in collaboration with the Renewables Directorate of Burkina Faso Energy Ministry and the EU delegation in Ouagadougou and the Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECREEE - ECOWAS).
Burkina Faso case study
In Burkina Faso, access to modern energy sources remains very low (18.3%), especially in rural areas (3.06%). To tackle this situation pioneering approaches are needed to accelerate universal access to electricity, while simultaneously transitioning to reliable, sustainable and affordable energy systems. In Burkina Faso, the European Union actively contributes to the energy sector with investments in large infrastructure, promotes rural electrification and supports the design of policies and regulatory frameworks that promote healthy business environment and boost private and public investments.
The JRC Science for Policy report titled ‘Mapping the least-cost option for rural electrification in Burkina Faso’ shows the commitment of the European Union in supporting Africa and in this case more concretely Burkina Faso in the energy sector at scientific level. The report developed a new methodology based on spatial analysis in order to provide a possible pathway for universal electricity access through a sustainable energy mix. The report compares electricity technology options based on the available local resources (small hydropower and solar PV) to imported fossil fuel resources by means of least-cost optimization. The results strongly suggest that an increase in the integration of renewable energy in the overall electricity supply and a decrease in the current dominance of fossil fuels is the most cost-effective strategy, including the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies. The main findings indicate that in the long term, smaller decentralised electrification projects based on indigenous resources will be a more feasible and sustainable solution than the centralised ones which rely on imported fossil fuels. The results suggest that up to 65 % of the non-electrified settlements can be served by decentralised technologies.
Furthermore, the report highlights the substantial PV potential in Burkina Faso, encouraging the deployment of renewable energy by the government and investors. The results also suggest that integrating more renewable energy in the electricity supply and reducing the use of fossil fuels would lead to more cost-effective energy systems. The findings of the JRC report will support the Burkina Faso government and development partners in defining the least-expensive rural electrification options within the framework of the national action plans for the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) initiative (see page 20), which empowers leaders to create partnerships and unlock finance to achieve universal access to sustainable energy.
Comparison between off-grid PV and diesel generation options for the electrification of rural Africa (2008-2014)
Source: European Commission, JRC
A transformation of existing under-exploited energy infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa represents low-cost and low-risk opportunities for investors and boost access to sustainably generated electricity. The JRC lead paper presents an integrated ‘low-hanging-fruit’ approach, analysing the potential of existing infrastructure to be transformed to energy producing facilities. In existing infrastructure (e.g. irrigation dams) a significant upfront investment has already been made, that can be then further exploited for electricity generation.
The work resulted in a map containing direct site identification data of three categories of infrastructure: non-powered dams that can be converted to hydroelectric power facilities; rural mini-grids that can integrate solar PV systems; and coal power plants that could burn biomass (bagasse, a sugarcane residue), either co-fired with coal or separately. Integrating PV into existing rural mini-grids can reduce in half the electricity cost of new investments.
The work also builds on already available human capacities as technicians and managers keep on operating and maintaining the infrastructure. The authors developed a tailor-made multi-layer spatial analysis and processed satellite night images to identify existing rural mini-grids. The comprehensive methodology identified and selected suitable locations in SSA and estimated their potential for exploitation. This strategy to attract additional finance can easily be reproduced, engaging private investors while simultaneously helping to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on energy.
Sandor Szabo has a degree in finance, economics and a PhD. in public policy. After working in the Ministry of Environment and in a private consultancy in Hungary, he joined the DG JRC, European Commission. He has specialized on risk finance and incentive mechanisms of power systems with high renewable penetration. He coordinates the African Renewable Energy Technology Platform, transforming geo-economic models to policy and business applications.
During the last 15 years, Dr Moner-Girona’s research has focused on techno-economic studies to analyze policies enhancing the deployment of renewable energy in developing countries. This includes experience at United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP), DG JRC-European Commission, and UC Berkeley.
Ioannis Kougias is a Civil Engineer with a PhD in water resources’ engineering and management. Since 2013
he has worked as a renewable energy analyst and a hydropower specialist at the DG JRC, European Commission. He is involved in water and energy interactions, hydropower research, and energy market modelling.
Katalin Bódis is a senior GIS analyst and research consultant with degree in mathematics and geography and a PhD in earth sciences, geoinformatics. After research and teaching at the University of Szeged in Hungary, she joined the DG JRC, European Commission in 2003. Activities include multi-disciplinary research and policy support on flood risk management, climate change, soil ecosystem services and renewable energy source. Main competences: GIS modelling, decision support by combining spatial, technical and economic models, data-mining, data harmonization and integration.
Irene Pinedo Pascua
Irene Pinedo Pascua holds a BA in Geography. Her PhD research focused on the development of GIS tool able to compare electrification technologies in developing countries. Since 2010, she works at the DG-JRC in projects dealing PV solar resource assessment, web mapping and rural electrification in Africa.