Over the last decade, West Africa has seen a dramatic surge in energy demand due to population growth, urbanisation, and industrialisation. In spite of these impressive changes, the region still has one of the lowest electrification rates in the world: only 42% of the total population have access to electricity, an amount that reaches 8% if we consider rural areas.
There are several challenges related to energy security West Africa is facing, including the need to diversify its energy mix, and to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, which are becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. This lack of access to energy is a major barrier to the economic and social development of the region, despite the enormous renewable energy potential West Africa is endowed with. Such a capability could help the continuous increase of energy demand while fighting against climate change consequences, but it is nowadays widely unexploited: for instance, green energy sources account for only 21% of the generation capacity.
This situation is due to several factors. First of all, we have to consider the political and regulatory framework: policies are in many cases inadequate and the objectives defined in national strategies are unrealistic. A further element is a widespread discouragement of private investors, who do not find adequate de-risking tools and transparency in tender procedures. Other barriers are represented by the access to finance, as investors are often unfamiliar with the sector and lack the appetite to invest, and low levels of awareness in the technology, combined with a shortage of grid infrastructure in rural areas and political and economic instability.
In RES4Africa Foundation’s latest study “Connecting the Dots, Accelerating renewable energy deployment with regional integration: a 10 years retrospective on West Africa”, developed in synergy with Enel Green Power, we analysed what hindrances are inhibiting a speedy, even and steady growth of renewable energy in the area. To unblock the halt and encourage a real energy transition in the area, some targeted actions are needed. Is there a realistic and operative approach to tackle them? Yes, with renewables. The West African region can leverage cross-border collaboration to maximise the benefits of a just energy transition, as the study highlights the importance of regional integration and cooperation in order to create an enabling environment for the deployment of renewable energy.
A new network of stakeholders needs to be established to identify and prioritise challenges, opportunities and needs related to climate technology deployment, as well as a knowledge-sharing platform to facilitate the exchange of information between them and the global climate technology community. Additionally, a multi-level capacity building program needs to be developed and implemented to improve the capacity of local energy actors in order to better use and deploy climate technologies.
To put it simply, new policies and regulations must be developed promoting the deployment of climate technology facilitating barriers to foreign direct investments: this will allow the implementation of bankable Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs), ensuring a balance between local content and market competitiveness. The region also needs to adopt a clear regulatory framework enhancing financial de-risking instruments with the provision of innovative solutions, supporting monetary cooperation among countries, and promoting regional integration to attract investments and support economic development.
Ensuring that the energy generated in West Africa is sustainable is only the first step. With the right investments and policies in place, West Africa can become a global leader in renewable energy that steers the continent towards a new and bright future, characterised by wider beneficial outcomes for a greener Africa.
illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, a European think tank gathering 34 stakeholders from the clean energy value chain to accelerate Africa’s RE transition. Previously, he spent 35 years in Enel Power R&D Division and served for 12 years as the chair of the Renewable Working Party of the IEA