Johannesburg – The “absence of compelling continental leadership” focusing on energy integration will keep Africa “in the dark”, said business leader Reuel Khoza on Tuesday.
“With energy you can illuminate what has been called the Dark Continent,” said Khoza, who is chairperson of independent power producer Globeleq. “For as long as Africa does not show leadership, we will remain in the dark.”
Khoza, whose remarks were part of a ministerial session at the Africa Energy Indaba in Sandton, called for an overall continental strategy regarding energy integration.
The former chairperson of Eskom and Nedbank said Africa is a “continent in fragments”, which “must find ways to address integration”.
The talks come as Africa faces an energy crisis on several fronts due to a lack of energy diversity (a drought has dried up Kariba dam, causing power cuts in Zimbabwe and Zambia), a delay in promised new builds (Grand Inga hydro in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Medupi and Kusile in South Africa), and a lack of transmission infrastructure.
The ministerial panel called for a mixed use of energy, regional transmission integration and policies that attract private investment, which is seen as crucial to developing electricity for more people in Africa.
Department of Energy deputy director general Wolsey Barnard told the meeting that energy integration in the region is closely connected to economic growth.
Over 620 million people have no access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, a number that will increase to 645 million by 2030, said Barnard.
“It requires $225bn to catch up in infrastructure development just for access to electricity and not including generation,” said Barnard.
He added that no single country can engage in complex and expensive energy projects alone. “It must be done on a regional basis.”
Having learnt important lessons from South Africa’s independent power producer programme, he explained the need for contracts with smaller generators.
“We need to move away from a single source of power generation,” he said. “We need to go broad-based, with a mixed use of energy.”
Countries need to have flexibility in policies and legislation regarding electricity management to open up private investment, because governments don’t have funding, said Barnard.
“Energy infrastructure is a critical building block to unlocking Africa’s energy potential... We have to open up options for private investments, as there are huge opportunities.”
Zambian Energy and Water Development Minister Dora Siliya made it clear that the private sector is key to developing the energy sector.
“We need to provide clear policy and regulation directions with easy processes to follow,” she said. “Feasibility studies need to be done as quickly as possible to develop regional infrastructure.”
She said Africa wants to connect the grid from South Africa to Kenya, which will provide the possibility for power to be traded and precipitate investment and industry growth where power is needed.
However, she warned that while governments are trying to garner investment, public power utilities crowd out the private sector.
“This is a conversation that we will need to have soon,” Siliya said.