COP22: A new era for the EU-Africa cooperation in the energy field?

Helping Africa accelerating its energy transition is indispensable while climate negotiations are on-going in Marrakech. As 16 November is the so-called “Africa day” at COP 22, several options are on the table to put energy efficiency, renewables and grid development in focus.

Africa's domestic potential in renewable energy sources remains largely untapped. Throughout the continent, 635 million people are left without access to electricity.  Discrepancies are particularly strong between urban and rural areas. Statistics show that the urban electrification rate in Africa is at 68% while the rural electrification rate is at a staggering 26%. Huge disparities are also found between the North and the South. In North Africa the national electrification rate is at 99%, compared to 32% in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Sub-Saharan rural electrification rate is at 17% while in the North it is at 99%.

These inequalities inevitably lead to a higher migration flux to urban areas in order to be able to access energy. This highlights the importance of lack of access to energy in Africa as it influences the demographics of the African continent, whose consequences will inevitably affect Europe as well.  The resources of this continent need to be tapped in order to access its potential in renewable energies which would guarantee a greater access to energy for more Africans.

Expansion of renewables is of course largely conditioned to grid improvement as well as to more systemic efficiency policy. The European Union should play a more prominent role to further develop these three sectors in Africa.

The EU could propose cooperation with Africa on energy labelling (indicating via an A to G scale which products and appliances are consuming less energy) and on eco-design (minimum energy performance requirements) to ensure that Africa does not become a second zone market for non-efficient products. For example, in Africa demand for cheap cars is high. A situation that is easily exploitable. As such, used or damaged cars from developed nations find willing buyers in Africa, who get to purchase a car for the fraction of the price that the original buyer paid. These used models, coming from all over Europe and the United States, are shipped to Africa where they are being resold. This also applies to used and damaged goods such as broken TVs, computers, refrigerators etc.  Not only do the transport costs of shipping the goods to Africa add to the already heavy strain of transport emissions, but the use and reintegration of these damaged products into African society will continue the pollution emitted from these products. Furthermore, many of the damaged goods that are being thrown away in developed countries often end up on landfill sites in Africa, so-called “electronic graveyards”. As such, millions of tonnes of e-waste have already ended up on such dumping sites. It is therefore imperative to stop this cycle and ensure Africa will no longer be a dumping ground for second hand electronic goods and cars. This is a vicious cycle that is hampering Africa’s shift to becoming a sustainable energy continent.

A greater awareness of the energy consumption of certain electronic goods, achieved by labelling such products, will provide more transparency to African consumers when purchasing electronic devices. This also allows for higher energy savings as minimum standards would be implemented and the more energy efficient products would be visible as such.

Furthermore, EU-Africa cooperation could address the sector of “near zero energy new buildings” taking into account the specificities of warm climate countries, based on the experience of southern European Member States. This should be approached through institutional capacity building. It is important to consider both the physical (technical competencies) as well as the more abstract, social factors in order to aid the development of a more sustainable building stock in Africa.

Africa’s potential for renewables’ deployment is immense. The first priority is to lower capital costs and allow for cheaper investment. High capital costs are penalising renewables development in Africa. Although the sun shines more in Burkina Faso than in Germany, there are way more PV panels in Germany than in Burkina Faso... This could be tied to the European External Investment Plan (EIP) as a tool to de-risk investment in renewable energies.

The EIP attempts to boost investment in Africa and the EU Neighbourhood, to bring in the private sector and to support infrastructure and SMEs while complying with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Addis Ababa Agenda. It consists of three pillars: mobilising investments through the use of financing instruments, providing technical assistance and strengthening the business environment.

Furthermore, working alongside the AREI initiative could enhance chances of a successful renewable energy transition in Africa. AREI´s objective of installing renewable energies at a large-scale throughout Africa, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions, coincides with the aim of helping Africa in its transition. AREI advocates for sustainable development and aims to engage with the issue of climate change in Africa. Under the mandate of the African Union, this Africa-owned and -led initiative intends to use the continent`s vast renewable energy potential. Its goal is to achieve at least 10 GW of new and additional renewable energy generation capacity by 2020 as well as mobilising the African potential to generate at least 300 GW by 2030. Some of the possibilities to realise these objectives include the scaling up and accelerating of the deployment and funding of renewable energy, furthering intra-regional and international cooperation and promoting all kinds of renewable energy technologies.

Increased penetration of renewable energy is also conditioned by grid development. On the one hand, the EU should consider the MEDA region as an extension of its own domestic power market. This goes through a better physical interconnection (cf. project of a cable between Portugal and Morocco) but also the establishment of tighter policy cooperation, similar to the Energy Community linking the EU, Moldova, Ukraine and the Balkans. On the other hand, mini-grids are the good vehicle to couple PV panels and batteries in order to electrify rural Africa, based on energy kits currently deployed in some African countries. Mini-grids have proven in several pilot projects to offer a time and cost efficient way of electrification in rural Africa due to their easy installation and high flexibility.

The recent presidential election in the US has increased uncertainty as to the nation´s commitment to climate change, and America´s future role in the fight against climate change remains uncertain. It is now important, more than ever, that the EU reinforces its leadership in Africa. Helping Africa in the transition to becoming an energy efficient and sustainable continent should be part of Juncker’s objective to become “world number one in renewables”.


Article by Claude Turmes, Green MEP from Luxembourg