Open Africa Power 2019- Forging a New Generation of Clean Energy Leaders for Africa
The second round of the African module of the Open Africa Power, the educational program of Enel foundation, took place from 28 January _ 1st of February, 2019 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, involving 60 passionate, high profile, young and deeply engaged practitioners from the energy, power and sustainable development sectors selected across the continent with an aim of creating the African energy leaders of tomorrow who would make a difference in the continent’s clean energy future and beyond.
The program inspired the participants raising the expectation out of them given the existing challenges and opportunities of the energy sector across the continent and elsewhere and it was indeed a success by all measures. Thanks to the organizers.
The session was opened in the presence of distinguished guests including Tesfaye Fichala, special advisor to the Minister, Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Mr. Getahun Mogus, Executive director of the Ethiopian Energy Authority, Dr. Carlo Papa, Director of Enel Foundation, Prof. Izael da Silva, DVH Research&Innovation, Strathmore University, Prof. Esayas GebreYohannes, AAiT Director, Addis Ababa University, Swetha RaviKumar Bhagwat, Head of FSR global at Florence School of Regulation, high level representative from the Italian Embassy, Addis Ababa, organizers and participants and it continued the whole week in AAiT and UNECA conference halls. The whole program encompasses an African Module, Online module, Italian Module and a give back module to be completed within four months’ time table.
Enel group sector professionals, accomplished and senior experts in the African continent blessed the educational program sharing their knowledge, experiences and thoughts throughout the week with an active debate among the participants. The course covered a range of areas comprising policy and regulation, renewable technologies, thermal generation and the efuture project of Enel as a case, power networks, economics and business development, financing, legal and administrative aspects of energy access, transformative role of energy, climate change, sustainable development and agenda 2030 and the importance of collaboration. In the session, quite a number of new and intense ideas were shared and discussed, and I will share only the ten striking perspectives as a reflection.
(Note: the concepts and perspectives shared below belong to the experts who lectured in the session and they are expressed in the writers own words).
OAP2019 participants: Photo Credit: Federico Falessi
1. Anything coal and gas can do, renewables and storage can do as well
Solar and wind energy are short to market as compared to conventional and hydropower resources. Plus, the reduction in the cost of renewables coupled with the maturing storage capability makes renewables the preferable source of energy supply and it is even without considering the other environmental benefits of renewables. For every doubling in the volume of a solar PV module, there is a corresponding cost reduction by about 28%. The increasing efficiency of the panels help reduce the size of the panel and the associated need of materials, labor and accessories there by providing competitive advantage. The next round of optimization will be on balance of plants/systems as the PV module has been optimized to the extent possible. The current typical energy conversion efficiency of solar PV is 17-18% although innovation continues to push the figure higher. Solar and wind power resources are abundantly available in Africa and if properly tapped, there is a potential to power the whole continent with just the portion of the resources in North Africa alone.
2. Renewables are Not Impact Free.
Renewables have lesser environmental impact as compared to fossil fuels but they need to be managed properly. Portable mini-grids (charged up fronts) could be used for the construction of renewable power plants to minimize the impact of the diesel power plants during construction, for example. Against public perception, all energy resources are important for development except that we need to make up the quota overused in the past, and renewables are the only options for the foreseeable near future given their environmental benefits.
3. Evolving Power Network:
The future power networks are going to be different from the past networks. The life time of the radial power networks which carry electrical power from power plants to consumers is coming to an end complicated by the energy produced from consumers, the prosumers. The distribution network operators, DSOs, which used to operate the passive component of the power networks are now expected to manage the network as an additional role. Interconnecting multiple mini grids will also be the new challenge to be addressed in the future given each one of them are being built independently complicating the evolution of the distribution sector even more so. The role of aggregators will be helpful as enablers of prosumers and active market participation in the future power networks. Digitalizing is at the disposal of DSOs as a tool to manage the evolving and complex network of the smart grid of the future
4. Technology Evolving Faster But Standardizing Does not
Standardization fails to catch up with the evolving technology posing an interoperability barrier of independent systems in the future.
5. Importance of Continued Innovation
Innovation is critical not just on the technology but also in many aspects. By focusing on social innovation, it is possible to better utilize the technological innovations. Vehicle to grid, using the energy stored in the car’s batteries for electricity, is one area that requires active innovation to utilize the existing capacity, for example.
6. The World is at the Moment of Energy Transition
The world is now at a time of new energy transition after the oil discovery. Transition in the sense that the world is moving to a low carbon economy slowly shifting away from oil dependency towards renewables to energizing their economies, instead. A repositioning is underway from the established oil dependence geopolitics towards renewables based geopolitics. With some exceptions, the underdevelopment of the energy infrastructure in Africa and the abundantly available renewable energy resources are opportunities to help leapfrog to better and sustainable infrastructure development if the continent actively leverages the new normal. The countries need to approach the energy sector not just from the sector perspective but as an enabler to the larger development agenda to make a lasting impact in their economies.
With the current pace of progress, the world is not on track to meet the SDG climate goals. A lot remains to be done. There is an urgency to promote the Corporate Shared Value Concept as opposed to corporate social responsibility for businesses to embed it as part of their core business objectives for the benefit of businesses and societies alike. Enel Does it and everyone can do it! Building resilient energy sector is critical to the future of the development agenda of countries.
8. Financing and Legal Aspects are Critical for Energy Access:
Financial risks can be shared or mitigated. Regulatory and legislations cannot. Moreover, the systems of the banking sector is too cautious and cannot move with the pace of the technology evolution and it makes renewable project investment challenging. Due diligence to the regulatory environment and bankability of projects are critical to progress to the next level of project investments in the energy sector.
9. Mini-grid Business Models are Yet full of Uncertainties Despite a Huge Potential
Utility scale projects are relatively easier than off-grid solutions in terms of investment decisions. There are multiple reasons mentioned that hinder investment in the mini-grid investment space. The common reasons mentioned as barriers for mini-grids expansion are: the lack of a matured business model that could work across geographies and jurisdictions; the risk that the grid may reach the mini-grid site in a year or so jeopardizing the investment already made; the regulatory uncertainty; the low purchasing power of the rural households and etc.
When it comes to sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately, a large mass of the population lives in rural areas where grid access is extremely unlikely in the near future. In the foreseeable future, Mini-grids and other off-grid solutions are the only viable options and a special treatment is fundamental. Improving the regulatory environment, building more off-grid sites to scale to make them financially sound, proper planning and innovation on business models could help in the long term. It, however, needs a special support in the form of a subsidy, funding or incentives to serve the mass of the the unconnected population in the short term.
10. Collaboration is the New Call
In the face of the new, dynamic and complex energy systems and inevitable changes, it requires an effective collaboration among the international community, governments, utilities, IPPs, TSOs DSO, traders, aggregators, businesses, consumers and all professional disciplines to facilitate the clean energy transition towards the global goal of access to affordable, adequate, reliable and clean energy for all. Through collaboration and using energy as an enabler to decentralize the energy systems, decarbonize the economies, democratize the data, de-risk the investments and digitalize operations, we reach the aspired goals of the Sustainable Development for all.