African Energy Week highlights lack of support for renewables

The closing day of the African Energy Week event held in South Africa this month heard voices casting doubt on a renewables-only energy transition and calling for a gradual change and continued investment in petrochemical production.

November 23, 2021

The year’s African Energy Week event closed with the message the continent is not ready to abandon fossil fuels, with one speaker casting doubt on the efficacy of renewables to keep the lights on, and a government representative stressing the need for oil and gas-fired electricity to power solar manufacturing.

On the final day of the event in Cape Town – organized by industry body the African Energy Chamber – Sara Vakhshouri, of SVB Energy International, told the conference each African nation has its own unique energy needs and that a ‘mixed basket’ of energy sources would be the best approach for nations to secure energy security.

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Vakhshouri is founder and president of the Washington-based consultant, which lists ‘major national and international oil companies’ as its biggest client type. She told the event: “Energy transition doesn’t mean we only need solar and wind. We are not sure that the energy transition to renewables with the current technology is sustainable and viable yet. The high energy prices, increase in population, and lower efficiency of solar and wind make us see a different scenario.”

Mohammed Amin Adam, deputy energy minister of Ghana, called upon international investors to devote as much attention to developing renewables in Africa as they do in other markets, such as Europe and Asia.

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“What we need is partnerships from the world,” said the politician. “Financial institutions, governments and the private sector need to work with us to harness this potential. From 2015, investment in renewables in Africa moved from US$70 billion, according to IRENA [the International Renewable Energy Agency] to over US$320 billion today.” Nevertheless, he added: “This amount is small compared to global investment in the renewable energy sector.”

But the Ghanaian cabinet member also said renewables investment must go arm in arm with continued fossil fuel spending. He said: “An example is, through petrochemicals we can produce [solar] panels and battery cells in our continent, but if we stop producing oil and gas, how do we generate the petrochems that are required to do the battery cells and panels?”

Taonna Kokera, of Paris-headquartered financial services company Mazars, offered a dissenting view by pitching for Africa to fulfill its potential to be a global leader in the scaling up of clean energy generation.

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