Key takeaways from the German-African Energy Forum

The 17th edition of the German-African Energy Forum in Hamburg this week drew more than 300 participants from over 30 countries. The continent’s green energy transition and how to finance it were among the topics on the agenda.

More than 300 participants representing over 30 countries took part in the 17th edition of the German-African Energy Forum, held in Hamburg on May 16 and 17.

Wiebke Polomka, senior manager of Southern Africa of Afrika-Verein der deutschen Wirtschaft, which organized the forum, told pv magazine that German companies have the technology, knowledge and experience to support Africa’s transition.

“I think we can go even further from here, we need to encourage even more companies to take a look at Africa because it has huge potential for renewable energy and everyone is looking for partners,” she added.

As this year’s theme – “Africa’s energy roadmap: Breaking new grounds for green(er) economies” – would indicate, the continent’s green energy transition was at the forefront of many conversations. In an introductory video call, African Union’s Commissioner for Infrastructure, Energy, ICT and Tourism, Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, said that maximizing Africa’s renewables deployment is a “must.” She set out targets of 800 GW of renewables by 2040, including a 20-fold increase in solar.

Nthato Minyuku, Siemens Energy’s head of government affairs for Africa, told attendees that African countries need time, space and funding for the energy transition. She added that “radical solutions are not the answer to radical problems.” Several speakers said that every country will have different ways and different paces toward the energy transition. For some, that will include the continued use of gas as a transitional energy source.

Financing concerns

In a session debating the roadmap to greener industrialization, the panelists said that African countries need to “be more honest with themselves” and introduce incentives and frameworks to create conducive environments for foreign investors. Ezekiel Adesina, executive secretary of the African Energy Study Group, Nigeria, called for international cooperation across the continent. His calls were echoed by Senegalese Minister of Energy Birame Souléye Diop, who said that neighboring countries don’t want to have to compete with each other and should rather look to support to one another.

The participants said that energy projects in Africa can be up to two or three times more expensive than comparable projects in advanced economies, leading to discussions around whether finance instruments need to be adapted or reconsidered. While it was made clear at the forum that German public funding will continue to play a role, the onus was put on the private sector.

Birgit Pickel, director general Africa for Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), said that the private sector “has to do the job.” She explained that the ministry aims to bring in more investment. BMZ currently holds 33 bilateral partnerships across Africa, tailor-made to each country, with a focus on delivering the lowest-cost renewables as energy alternatives.

The panelists noted investment risks but highlighted the direct correlation between risks and opportunities. One session on financing energy transition urged investors to engage with local companies once projects begin in Africa, as it de-risks projects while also putting less pressure on importation and in turn less reliance on the dollar.

Focus on hydrogen

Throughout the forum, hydrogen was never too far from the discussion. In one session dedicated entirely to the technology, where it was billed as the “energy of the future,” the focus was on harnessing green hydrogen for local use in African industries. In particular, Sven Schuppener, an associate expert for UNIDO Austria, gave advice for African countries looking to develop the technology.

“It might sound counterintuitive at first, but what makes sense for most countries, is to start small,” Schuppener said, adding that donor funding is often available for small-scale projects.

Markhus Thill, president region Africa at Robert Bosch, agreed, adding that hydrogen projects aimed at benefiting the local sector will in turn foster industrialization and job creation.

And while Germany’s long-term goal of exporting hydrogen from Africa to Europe was mentioned – particularly the potential for doing so from North African countries where pipelines already exist – several attendees shared the opinion that African countries need to work toward universal electricity access and less reliance on imports before considering additional exports.

German companies can rest assured that African nations are ready and waiting for investment. Multiple speakers across several sessions said there were representatives in the room ready to start the conversation.

Adesina urged often “risk-averse” German investors to visit the African countries they are looking to invest in. He said Chinese companies are currently taking the space, as African companies are looking to sign what comes to the table.

Polomka told pv magazine that connecting people was one of the main aims of the forum.

“We hope new partnerships will be created and new products will emerge that will have an impact on the continent and on that local community that they’re building the project in,” she said. “So they have the conversation start here and go further after the forum and maybe next year come back and tell us ‘I met the right partner at your forum and this is the project that we developed’.”

This post appeared first on PV Magazine.

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