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Renewable energy transition : Where does Africa stand ?

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Renewable energy transition : Where does Africa stand ?

With abundant renewable resources, Africa is emerging as a pioneer in the global energy transition. Despite significant progress, obstacles persist in the development of clean energies, notably in the exploitation of green hydrogen.

Clean energy : Path to sustainable development

The energy potential of Africa is a cornerstone for development and sustainability if utilized effectively. Renewable resources offer a sustainable solution to Africa’s energy challenges, with a potential 50 times higher than the global electricity demand projected for 2040.

In addition to geothermal, hydro, wind, and solar energy, Africa has promising prospects for large-scale green hydrogen projects. The region boasts approximately 40 % of the world’s solar potential and abundant reserves of platinum group metals (PGMs). Africa holds nearly 40 % of global reserves of cobalt, manganese, and platinum, crucial for batteries and fuel cells.

This momentum is captured in the report « The Incredible Potential of Green Hydrogen in Africa », presented at COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh. Developed by the European Investment Bank, the International Solar Alliance, the African Union, Mauritania, HyDeal, and UCLG Africa, the report outlines a vision to produce 50 million tons of green hydrogen annually from solar energy in Africa by 2035.

Potential of the African green hydrogen market

Green hydrogen is generated from renewable energy sources such as sunlight and wind. In densely populated industrialized nations, limited space hinders the deployment of wind and solar farms. Meanwhile, developing countries with vast sunny lands, such as Algeria, Morocco, and South Africa, can capitalize on this resource.

According to a recent study, deploying green hydrogen projects in Africa results in a 40 % reduction in carbon emissions, equivalent to an annual decrease of 500 million tons of CO₂. Large-scale production can meet global demand by supplying up to 25 million tons of green hydrogen to energy markets. This equates to 15 % of the current gas consumption in the European Union. Deloitte’s analysis even suggests that by 2050, North Africa could become the world’s leading exporter of green hydrogen.

Challenges of massive exploitation and exportation

While the prospects are promising, the massive development and exportation of renewable energies in Africa raise concerns about their local impact. Experts caution against repeating the mistakes of fossil fuel exploitation.

According to the report « Just Transition : A Climate, Energy, and Development Vision for Africa », transitioning to clean energy sources could yield mixed outcomes for the continent. While renewable energies hold great potential, their benefits in terms of social, political, and economic development remain limited in many African nations. Additionally, the challenges of undertaking such an energy transition are significant, with only a few countries currently capable of navigating these complexities.

Illusion about green hydrogen transport

Sébastien Treyer, Director General of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), cautions against misplaced expectations regarding the long-distance transport of green hydrogen. He asserts that this renewable resource should primarily fuel Africa’s industrialization. However, funding for energy transition is dwindling, posing challenges for developing countries striving for development.

Growing pressure from civil society is prompting African governments to prioritize retaining the value of resources within the continent. This sentiment was echoed by Ursula von der Leyen during a green hydrogen partnership between Kenya and the European Union. « Our focus lies on economic development, job creation, and environmental sustainability, supported by the sharing of European technology and investments in local skills, » emphasized Kenyan President William Ruto.

Nairobi Declaration

The inaugural African Climate Summit convened from September 4th to 6th, 2023, in Nairobi, under the auspices of the Republic of Kenya and the African Union. The summit garnered support from influential international entities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the African Development Bank (AfDB). It addressed sustainable development and climate challenges deliberated at COP28.

Key decisions included the launch of the PAFMA and the adoption of the Nairobi Declaration, aimed at bolstering the green economy in Africa. These commitments compel the continent to triple its efforts in energy transition by 2030, aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals deadline.

Leveraging carbon tax for energy transition financing

The Nairobi Declaration underscores the importance of climate financing, advocating for three key initiatives:

  • Overhauling international financial systems
  • Providing debt relief and extending grace periods for repayment
  • Reinstating a global carbon tax

Implementing a carbon tax offers a pragmatic avenue to augment funding for clean energy initiatives in Africa. This strategy incentivizes the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions through carbon credits or investments in green technologies. Such measures play a pivotal role in addressing climate vulnerabilities by channeling financial resources towards sustainable projects.

This proposed framework targets carbon-intensive sectors like fossil fuel trading, maritime transport, and aviation. However, concerns linger regarding the integrity and transparency of these mechanisms. Some African leaders and environmental advocates criticize the introduction of a global carbon tax, citing it as a form of greenwashing. Furthermore, the declaration overlooks the imperative of gradually phasing out oil and gas exploration on the continent.

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