Described as the ‘African COP’, the recently concluded COP27 held in Egypt’s Sharm el Sheikh region (6 - 18 November) was set to shine a spotlight on Africa’s role in the energy transition.
Africa finds itself in a unique position when it comes to the climate crisis.
Despite being responsible for only three to seven percent (http://bit.ly/3V4bhiO) of global greenhouse gas emissions (estimates vary), Africa is likely to be at the forefront of the extreme weather consequences.
Africa’s susceptibility to the impacts of climate change will herald significant challenges in the coming years, in both human and economic terms.
With agriculture accounting for some 23 percent of total GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, both increasing water scarcity and unpredictable flooding, for instance, will destabilise agricultural markets, and negatively affect economic growth.
At the same time, the continent’s energy needs are growing.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is expected to reach 2.2 billion by 2050 (http://bit.ly/3VgJn2W) and with only 67 percent of the population (http://bit.ly/3ENYrjr) with access to electricity currently – or rather 600 million people without (http://bit.ly/3hWXvQH), governments will need to produce more energy more quickly.
With this top of mind, the governments of Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and others under the Kigali Communique (http://bit.ly/3US0jgI) and Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) are eager to bring gas under the umbrella of transition fuels, committing to replacing this with renewables in the longer term.
African countries sitting on major oil and gas reserves (http://bit.ly/3Vcdg4v), including Nigeria (206.53 tfc), Senegal (120 tfc), Mozambique (100 tcf), Tanzania (57.54 tfc) and others, are seeking to leverage the price boom and lure investors.
Yet, with institutions such as the International Energy Agency (IEA) cautioning investors against funding new oil, gas and coal supply projects in the weeks leading up to the conference, and climate activists hopeful that conference stakeholders would take a hard stance on the continent’s gas ambitions, the conference was going to offer little in the way of concrete solutions.
Furthermore, the developed world’s renewed commitments to the USD 100 billion earmarked to help the developing world in its transition and to adapt to the impact of extreme climates did little to reduce growing mistrust that developed countries will pay their fair share, having failed to meet these targets thus far.
But beyond the challenges in securing the financing to support the transition, how feasible is an energy transition in Africa, really?
Despite the urgency to address both the impacts and drivers of climate change on the continent, most African countries are positioned differently to those in the global north to shift to renewable or transition energy production.
There are various challenges that relate to energy production, distribution, and access, which will only be exacerbated by the dual impact of a growing population and increased industrialisation.
And crucially, the percentage of the population in sub-Saharan Africa currently with access to electricity is the lowest of any developing region.
Opportunities green(er) The continent has several options available to steer away from heavily polluting coal or oil, but much like investments into the traditional energy sector, there are limitations, not least concerns over adequate infrastructure, political will, and the upfront investment required to get the transition right.
In many parts of the continent, sunlight is in ample supply.
A recent report (http://bit.ly/3tJNDfO) estimates that Africa has 60 percent of the best solar resources globally, yet only a tiny proportion of this capacity is currently being tapped: the entire continent’s installed solar capacity is estimated to be half that of the UK (http://bit.ly/3ENRwqe).
Compared to other renewables, solar is relatively easy to install even in remote locations, and small-scale solutions can provide off-grid power both at the individual household or community levels.
While pay-as-you-go or power purchase agreement models for solar are being introduced across the continent to get around the relatively high upfront costs of installation, solar cannot offer a complete solution.
For one, photovoltaic panels rely on sunshine to operate, meaning they have a much smaller capacity factor (http://bit.ly/3Asz8k7) than other power generation methods that offer more consistent output.
And second, while the technology is constantly developing and getting more efficient, solar requires large areas for installation, capital investment and remains reliant on increasingly in-demand battery minerals.
Gas. Ghana’s deputy minister of oil, Mohammed Amin Adam, recently spoke (http://bit.ly/3AwBA9m) about the need for gas to be part of Africa’s transition from more carbon intensive fuels such as coal, lest it risk falling victim to “the transition curse” of revenue losses.
He further warned of a more cautious investment approach to hydrocarbon exploitation.
The International Energy Agency’s Africa Energy Outlook 2022 (https://bit.ly/3tJNDfO) report estimates there are some 5,000 billion cubic meters of discovered but untapped natural gas resources on the continent.
The emissions impact of using these reserves would be minimal to the global greenhouse gas total, but there is some debate (http://bit.ly/3V0RykA) as to whether gas presents a more attractive long-term investment than renewables, particularly given the infrastructural challenges inherent in expanding the user base of gas in more rural areas.
Currently only one African country, South Africa, produces nuclear power commercially.
There is no shortage of uranium on the continent, with Namibia and Niger among the top six global uranium producers (http://bit.ly/3UUeUYW).
Several African countries, including Algeria, Ghana, Morocco and Nigeria host operational research reactors, and are planning the commissioning of commercial plants over the coming decade.
But while nuclear plants offer a cleaner alternative to hydrocarbon power production, they are expensive, and particularly in politically less stable economies the investment risks for projects are high.
Once brought online, nuclear power requires steady maintenance from skilled technicians over long lifespans, which again increases the costs of delivering nuclear power safely.
Here, small modular reactors (SMRs) (http://bit.ly/3AvJOPb), at about a third of the size of the typical plants currently in use in most places may offer a viable alternative.
SMRs are safer to operate and use substantially less water – a particularly attractive feature in arid climes.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in the energy sector worldwide are involved in over 50 percent of global existing and planned fossil-fired power generation.
Often holding a monopoly over a country’s power generation and transmission, these entities are critical in leading Africa’s transition.
Yet, public utility companies including South Africa’s Eskom, the DRC’s Société Nationale d'Électricité, as well as the Tanzania Electric Supply Company to name a few, have become severely hampered by aging infrastructure, mismanagement, corruption, and debt.
And despite government promises of change, private investors in the renewable sector have been hesitant to embed with power SOEs. This caution is warranted, as overestimating the political will and avenues for change could prove foul in a political context where the regulatory landscape is complex, private-public partnerships (PPPs) are challenging and community expectations for power delivery are high.
Local partners play a key part in navigating this space making getting into bed with the wrong stakeholders a key risk, particularly amid weak governance.
These challenges are likely to be only aggravated by the more severe climate consequences for Africa.
In addition to the direct consequences of a warming planet and more unpredictable weather patterns, climate change also acts as a “conflict threat multiplier”.
Competition over increasingly scarce resources such as water or arable land, both of which are potentially threatened by climate change, is already contributing to (http://bit.ly/3AxuXnd) a range of conflicts on the continent.
The war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, the proliferation of terrorist groups in countries around Lake Chad, and conflict across Sahel have all been linked (http://bit.ly/3TRAtb5) to changes in their respective environments driven by climate change.
Studies have shown (http://bit.ly/3TSw3kr) that conflict risk increases by 10 to 20 percent with each 0.5°C of global warming.
The consequences of climate change on communities are exacerbated where governance, poor infrastructure and services and socio-economic challenges already exist.
While the effect is not universal, Africa’s disproportionate vulnerability to the effects of climate change means there is an acute need for sustainable and unique remedies to its energy needs.
Navigating Africa’s energy transition, be it for those directly involved or operators keen to build the resilience of their businesses that plug into the energy picture, will now more than ever require an innate understanding of the interplay between the commercial, the political and the social.
But, with the needs great, the opportunities for investing in an inevitable transition are ample.
Ministers and government officials from several African countries discussed the potential of nuclear power to support sustainable development and the transition to clean and reliable energy as the IAEA launched a new publication on climate change and nuclear power at a side event during the 66th IAEA General Conference.
The event, "Supporting the energy transition in Africa", presented the 2022 edition of Climate Change and Nuclear Energy, which is updated every two years and provides a wealth of technical information and data on the benefits of nuclear energy to contribute to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
This year's publication features a chapter on nuclear power in Africa, on which IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi held an extensive discussion with representatives from Egypt, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa at today's event.
"Everywhere I listen to this global conversation about energy security, climate change and nuclear power, and whether it's due to changing circumstances, climate or security needs, it's pretty clear that nuclear power now has a place in the table," Grossi said.
"What I like about this discussion is that there is no discussion without Africa.
Africans have told themselves [...] 'we need to contribute, and we need our own specific analysis of how this nuclear jewel will be used for African economies.'" According to the new publication, around 600 million people and 10 million small businesses in Africa do not have a reliable source of electricity , and increasingly, connection to a national grid is no guarantee of electricity supply Blackouts are becoming more frequent, and in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Bank reports that nearly 80 percent of businesses experience blackouts Meanwhile, Africa's energy demand is increasing twice as fast as the global average, largely driven by urban population growth.In this context, several African countries are exploring the possibility of adding nuclear power to its energy mix, and Egypt recently began construction on its first nuclear power plant.
The only nuclear operator on the continent with two reactors totaling almost 2,000 MWe, is considering the long-term operation of the Koeberg nuclear power plant and the expansion of its nuclear power programme.
Egypt, the host of the upcoming UN climate summit, or COP27, in November, recently broke ground on the first of four 1,200 MWe reactors it plans to build at El-Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast.
“Egypt opted for nuclear power because it provides a constant source of energy that lasts for decades,” said Mohamed H.
El Molla, Egypt's Resident Representative to the IAEA.
Through its Milestone Approach, the IAEA supports some 30 countries in Africa and around the world called new nuclear countries in their efforts to develop the infrastructure necessary for a safe, secure and sustainable nuclear power programme.
Ghana has been working with the Agency for a number of years, including an IAEA-led Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission in 2017.
“Ghana is looking to introduce nuclear power to provide the necessary diversity of baseload to ensure the energy security for our future demands.
”, said Kwaku Afriyie, Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of Ghana.
"Our hydroelectric potential is almost exhausted, so our interest in nuclear energy is to make sure we have energy for our transition and development."
While 40 percent of Ghana's energy comes from hydropower, it accounts for 17 percent of all electricity generation in Africa and rising, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
In countries such as Uganda, Zambia, and Malawi, the share of hydroelectric generation exceeds 80 percent.
Hydropower is low-carbon and goes a long way toward meeting net-zero emissions commitments, but as weather patterns change, so does the availability and reliability of water supplies.
And Africa is particularly vulnerable to these changes.
The IEA predicts that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Zambia and Zimbabwe, climate change will cause a significant decrease in hydropower capacity by the end of the century.
Many other nations will experience unpredictable fluctuations in their hydroelectric supply.
If electricity demand continues to grow and climate change causes less hydropower production, countries will be able to secure baseload electricity only through fossil fuel sources or nuclear power.
But according to the World Bank, the public finances of developing African countries have worsened amid the COVID pandemic, leaving many unable to finance large infrastructure projects on their own.
"That means international funding will be vital," said Henri Paillere, Chief of the IAEA's Economic Studies and Planning Section, which produces the biannual publication.
“Establishing special economic zones with tailored economic regulations built around reliable local infrastructure would be one way to attract foreign investment.
Such zones could then serve as clean energy hubs that would benefit surrounding communities and act as catalysts for energy transitions on a national scale.” New technologies, such as small modular reactors (SMRs), with lower start-up costs and easier financing than traditional reactors, may provide an option and better suit the small power grids found in many African countries, participants heard.
As countries in Africa consider or embark on nuclear power, Mr. Grossi emphasized that they would have the Agency's full support.
"The IAEA will be with you every step of the way," he said.
The United States and Ghana jointly launched their partnership under the Critical Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) program on February 25. The United States Ambassador, Stephanie S. Sullivan; Senior adviser to the President of Ghana, H.E. Yaw Osafo Marfo; Minister of Energy Bro. Dr. Mateo Opoku Prempeh; representative of the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation Mr. Kwamena Quayson; the Director General of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Prof. Samuel Boakye Dampare; the Director General of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority Dr. Nii Kwashie Allotey; U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretaries Anthony Wier of the State Department's Office of International Security and Nonproliferation, Aleshia Duncan of the Department of Energy's Office of Nuclear Energy, and Camille Richardson of the US Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration USA; and Japan's Deputy Commissioner for International Affairs from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry joined the virtual program to commemorate the partnership and discuss the next steps in civil nuclear cooperation between the United States and Ghana.
The FIRST program, led by the US Department of State, will support the adoption of small modular reactor (SMR) technology in Ghana, including support for stakeholder engagement, advanced technical collaboration, and evaluation and project planning. Japan has been a valued partner with the United States in the FIRST program and will build on its existing partnership with Ghana to further Ghana's civilian nuclear power aspirations.
“Clean, reliable and safe nuclear power can bring significant benefits to Ghana and the Ghanaian people, including clean energy, agricultural improvements, clean water, advanced medical treatment and more. The climate crisis is serious and urgent. Next-generation nuclear power, like the one we are working on today, must be part of the solution,” Ambassador Sullivan said during the event.
According to Minister of Energy Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh, Ghana's decision to include nuclear power in the nation's energy mix has led the country to establish Nuclear Power Ghana Limited as owner, operator and developer of the project. This ambitious goal for a newcomer country presents avenues such as the FIRST Program to further develop the capabilities of Nuclear Power Ghana Limited to fulfill its mission to safely build and operate Ghana's first nuclear power plant.
The President's Senior Advisor noted: “We strongly believe that this collaboration/partnership under FIRST will complement the historic IAEA approach that Ghana has taken in developing its nuclear programme, as well as enhance the skills of individuals to be able to progress to build, operate and regulate technology in a safe, secure, and safeguarded manner.”
“Through these capacity enhancement activities, the Ministry is convinced that Ghana will not only gain key insights, but that the country will be in a position of knowledge to make informed decisions ahead of phase three of our nuclear power programme. ”, commented the representative of the Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation of Ghana.
Emphasizing the interest in supporting the continued development of Ghana's energy sector, Deputy Assistant Secretary Camille Richardson said: “While the US government is ambitious every step of the way. They bring decades of experience leading innovations in civil nuclear power, pioneering the development of small modular reactors, and working with partners around the world to implement this safe, clean and affordable energy technology."
The Director General of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission emphasized that “the aspiration is that this series of capacity building activities will strengthen our national technical support organization (TSO)”. The Director General of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority stressed that “for us, the regulators, our success will be a very strict, logical and transparent licensing regime that emphasizes safety throughout the useful life of our future power plants, whether they are SMRs or larger reactors. ”
Initial training for Ghanaian partners will take place throughout 2022 and will focus on stakeholder engagement, licensing and regulatory development, financing, workforce development and nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation.
Building on more than 60 years of U.S. innovation and experience in nuclear power, FIRST provides capacity-building support to partner nations as they develop their nuclear power programs to support clean energy goals under the highest international standards of security and nuclear non-proliferation. To date, the US Department of State has announced $7.3 million to support FIRST projects around the world. At the Leaders' Summit on Climate, the Biden-Harris administration highlighted the FIRST program as one of the key US efforts to promote innovation to bring clean technologies to scale and build unprecedented global cooperation to confront the crisis. climate.