Harnessing Africa’s natural gas can help alleviate energy poverty- NJ Nyuk

energy poverty - cleanbuild

Harnessing Africa’s natural gas can help alleviate energy poverty- NJ Nyuk

Stats reveal that nearly 800 million people live without any access to electricity and out of this figure, 600 million of them are in sub-Saharan Africa. Shocking, not so?

The solution to addressing energy poverty in Africa is to “harness cheap renewables and green investments to meet the continent’s electricity-generation needs“, says Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, and Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency.

They explain in an article they co-wrote, that the world must come together, to drive African countries toward green energy and away from fossil fuels, full speed ahead.

On the other hand, many in Africa, including the African Energy Chamber, call for a multi-pronged approach to addressing energy poverty. Dubbed ‘just energy transition‘, the approach is not one that completely rejects fossil fuels but one that harnesses both renewable energy sources and fossil fuels.

In his own viewpoint, NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber, CEO of pan-African corporate law conglomerate Centurion Law Group believes that this is a better option, especially since the Chamber’s approach is designed to include Africa’s abundant, readily available natural gas in the continent’s energy mix.

Did you know that gas, especially most of Africa’s low carbon LNG, is the cleanest of all fossil fuels? According to Nyuk, it is and Africa has it in abundance.

Not only can it help to create a pathway to minimizing energy poverty through gas-to-power programs, “expanding the production and use of gas within Africa would also give African countries more time to make sure that their people and businesses develop the capacity to reap the full benefits of renewable energy jobs and business opportunities.”

While international organizations are calling for an urgent transition to renewables, they acknowledge that Africa is the least contributor to global emissions. As such, Nyuk believes that giving Africa that extra time is a reasonable step to take.

He argues that “It’s certainly a more reasonable option than taking oil and gas off the table just to accommodate world leaders, businesses, and organizations that will never have to live with the consequences of such actions. Make no mistake, we in Africa will be the ones to live the consequences and yes, we will feel the pain.”

Renewable energy and the role of natural gases

Even as there are lots of conversations around renewable energy transition, Africa still has a lot of ground to cover. The European Commission and the International Energy Agency claim that sub-Saharan Africa mostly has renewable energy to thank for recent strides in eroding its energy poverty.

Between 2014 and 2019, they note that about 20 million people a year gained access to electricity. Yet if we compare the ratio of those with access to energy to Africa’s growing population, the figure is not all that impressive. More needs to be done to crack energy poverty in the continent.

According to Nyuk, a leading authority in the African energy sector, renewable energy plays a vital role in these gains, however, we must not ignore the fact that Africa’s abundant natural gas has had and will continue to have a strong impact on its own.

“Let’s not ignore the truth that natural gas produces less carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel and can easily be integrated with renewable energy sources. This makes it a perfect choice for meeting Africa’s energy needs while keeping greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum.

And let’s not ignore that more than a dozen African states are already using natural gas that they produce themselves or import from other countries to generate electricity.  We need to ramp that up and boost more investment into that like nothing else.”

Highlighting the role of natural gas in accelerating energy access, he cited African countries that are have successfully executed gas-to-power projects, thereby conserving natural gas and doubling generating capacity.

Countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, and Senegal with others like Mozambique, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, and Cameroon in the race.

Implications of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ energy transition approach in Africa

Nyuk strongly believes that harnessing renewable energy is not Africa’s best hope of wiping out energy poverty. Rather, it should be seen as only one piece of the puzzle.

“We don’t want to repeat these experiences, no matter how urgently outside organizations inform us of the need for the energy transition. Instead, we want to create a level playing field for Africans, so they aren’t left out of opportunities in their own countries.

We need more local content regulations geared for renewable energy sectors, capacity-building programs, and financing initiatives for local entrepreneurs. And to do that successfully, we’ll need time – the kind of time that fossil fuels can give us”, he asserts.

He suggests that if a one-size-fits-all energy transition is forced on the continent, we expect that it will do more harm than good for Africans

Looking at solar energy, Nyuk reveals that currently, less than 10% of the world’s off-grid companies are African – and many of them are relatively small.

Thus, rushing headlong to switch to renewables will hurt the continent mainly because very few African companies will be able to fill the vacuum. Conversely, if foreign firms lead the way, they will, in all likelihood, hire people from their own countries to take the jobs they create before they hire Africans.

“Even in areas where African independent power producers (IPPs) have entered the renewable energy sector, these companies will likely struggle to compete with their foreign counterparts.”

According to him, another piece of the puzzle to solving Africa’s energy poverty is including Africans in the process of policy formulation by international energy organizations.

As the saying goes, “only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches”. Hence, Nyuk posits that if the European Commission and the International Energy Agency want to address energy poverty in Africa, getting rid of oil and natural gas should not be called for.

“We want to have a discussion and learn from one another. We’d rather see Africans help themselves by working with investors, not aid workers.

No matter how much empathy the global community shows about Africa’s strengths, opportunities, and challenges, no one will be more insightful, or more driven, to find the best solutions than the people who call Africa home and the European and American investors who use free-market principles to do business.”

Featured Image: NJ Nyuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber

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