Insights from Infrastructure Africa: 2014

30-09-2014, Gauteng , South Africa

REEEP's Jason Schäffler was at Infrastructure Africa 2014, and moderated a panel on Energy in Africa. Among the key questions being tackled by the group were specific technical challenges of metering systems, and how Africa should deal with braoder issues of energy security.

Panel Synthesis: Energy in Africa

Moderator: Jason Schäffler, Technical Coordinator, REEEP Southern Africa Secretariat

Panel Members:
Gari Matarirano, Senior Counsel, MacFarlanes
Dr Moses Banda, Director, Kalahari Geoenergy
Ian Curry, Director, Basil Read Energy
Andrew Etzinger, Senior General Manager, Eskom
David Jarrett, Managing Consultant, RDJ Consulting Services CC

Key Questions:

  • What kind of metering system can address energy problems and challenges in Africa?
  • How can Africa deal with energy security?
  • How can Africa confront and limit power theft?

Key points:
  • The unique opportunity in Africa is the ability to learn from developed continents.
  • Africa needs to accommodate for energy storage, and has an opportunity to lead in this industry.
  • Homes should be set up to be able to connect to the central system eventually, even if they will only be using solar at the current moment.
  • Ministry division causes problems for comprehensive and integrated planning.
  • Some believe that mega projects are not the solution, and that small scale, manageable, replicable, and inter-connectable projects are better.
  • Often the communities that we think are poor, are not really that poor, or are able to spend more than we expect.
  • Ownership and flexibility needs to be given to local communities in order for energy infrastructure projects to be


Synopsis:

Access to electricity is still a huge challenge in Africa. Electrification and delivering energy into Africa has a multi-faceted, diverse series of views. The unique opportunity in Africa is the ability to learn from developed continents. Africa needs to identify the local systems available, and then connect them into a continental network, so as not to deny access to electrical power.

Africa also needs to accommodate for energy storage. This is a new concept, and Africa has the ability to lead in this industry. Many African countries have a national utility for energy, and there is a fear in releasing control to independent power companies.

There is also great interest in renewables (solar, wind, hydro), and some places are looking at geothermal. Kenya is producing 300 MW, and hopes to reach 800MW by 2020. The government is often a problem because state-owned electricity is the only thing allowed because it is worried about the poor not being able to have access. There is great hydro potential in Zambia.

Africa needs to look at a plug and play infrastructure. When one looks at rural electrification, they see that if one cannot be connected to the central system, one should do solar. Why can one not fully wire these homes to be able to connect to the central system eventually? Then one can link into solar in the meantime? It is an international problem that can be plugged into long-term solutions.

Ministry division causes problems for comprehensive and integrated planning. At a household level, one needs cooking, heating, lighting, and power. These are four specific types of infrastructure that need to be brought into the same project. Current solutions always address one or two of these, when in fact all need to be looked at together. New build and electrification is what needs to be looked at.

There should also be greater partnership between the public and private sector. Planning, laws, and commitments need to be very clear when creating these projects. Laws must be in place and everyone must be informed. Regulatory bodies must be independent and consistent. If this is addressed early with the participation of the private sector, then there will be greater interest in energy investment.

Lessons from Eskom’s international experience show that metering and billing systems need to be in place from the start, otherwise it creates a big problem. There is potential to leapfrog in technology, but one needs to do it in a way that ensures that all parties can operate in the same way, rather than having different municipalities using different revenue collection methods. There is a need to provide electricity that can eventually link into stand alone communities. In addition, lower consumption before supply is the most important thing to look at now.

Africa needs to be mindful of energy security. Power imports are not reliable, which is something to be considered. With limited resources, integration is key. Eskom has come under fire for exporting while also importing, so they need to find a balance.

Many customers are going to rooftop photovoltaic systems in places where they do have access to the grid, so it should be everywhere. Companies and governments can create drop-down supply that is configured to plug into existing systems in the future.

What is the hold up with the INGA 3 expansion? There are diplomatic hold-ups, and issues of trust as well as of frameworking. Governments are also looking at the security of supply from a national perspective. The big problem is the peakhours, not the actual generation. Mega projects are complex and hard to roll out effectively. Some believe that mega projects are not the solution, and that small scale, manageable, replicable, and inter-connectable projects are better.

Eskom has had to deal with power theft. There is the Yaka prepaid system in Uganda, but they are looking forward to smart metering and billing. Uganda is also looking into independent power generation. They are advised to tread carefully with pilots because some meters trip or are unreliable.

The sector has not yet heard a success story of sustained affordability of electricity to the poor by the private sector. Economies of scale are important, and deep rural telecom lines can help and can be used as corporate social responsibility (CSR). Often the communities that are thought to be poor, are not really that poor, or are able to spend more than expected.

Community-based energy projects help to limit energy theft. If a community owns the distribution, then they will self police. Also a community trust can help the local community decide what the best investment is.

Each sovereign state will have a decision on how something will be rolled out or implemented. A company cannot require a certain kind of roll-out all over world. Namibia rolled out solar plans as well as hybridised power plants. The country must also look at other projects in the pipeline.

The energy mix will trend towards modern energy sources, as Africa has the greatest population growth of all continents, which implies tremendous pressure and opportunities.

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