One of the greatest challenges of our time is undoubtedly the availability of energy resources. A rapid, effective and widespread adoption of renewable energy sources not only represents an important measure to combat climate change, but also an incredibly strategic asset in terms of self-sufficiency, geopolitical independence and economic-productive stability.
This is true not only for the Western World or the Asian giants, but also and especially for Africa.
Despite a heavy vulnerability to climate change and a growing energy demand, the continent can boast an almost negligible percentage of renewables in its energy mix (roughly 8%).
What is the cause of such scarcity? An issue that is not easily solved: a full answer would, in fact, take into account a vast number of political, economic and environmental elements. For the purpose of our discussion, however, we will focus on a factor that, more than others, puts together the success stories and critical cases of the African energy transition: the regulatory frameworks.
This topic is at the core of RES4Africa‘s endeavours, as regulations constitute the backbone of any sustainable transition project, determining the predisposition to private investments, the degree of stability of national energy markets and the costs, risks and incentives any player in the sector will have to face.
Following a joint effort with UNECA, RES4Africa recently published regulatory reviews of five different African countries (Kenya, Seychelles, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mozambique and Mauritania). The publications are part of the Missing Link program, which analyses African regulations dedicated to renewables through three core dimensions: openness, readiness, and attractiveness.
Let’s start from the first one. The renewable market of the continent is undergoing a progressive opening up to private investments. The Seychelles, for instance, can count on an increasing degree of openness to investments and Independent Power Producers (IPP), thanks to a solid planning system and pragmatic and usually effective energy governance. Nevertheless, there are still some critical issues, especially in terms of transmission and distribution – these segments are dominated by state utilities, and offer limited, uncertain business opportunities.
Readiness is another crucial dimension of Africa’s energy regulatory frameworks. From RES4Africa’s reports, a general improvement emerges, due to interventions aimed at simplifying investments, an ever-increasing availability of market data and insights and continuously enhancing safety standards. There is also a constant consolidation of energy-dedicated independent authorities and regulators, as in the case of Mauritania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These two countries, however, also embody some of the biggest challenges yet to be solved: infrastructural inadequacy, scarcity of figures with a solid technical expertise, and the need to significantly expand energy access, so as to make the costs sustained by utilities and IPPs more sustainable and justified.
Finally, when it comes to attractiveness, we must acknowledge an increasing ability of African energy markets to catalyse private capitals. This trend is certainly represented by Kenya. Since the adoption of the Electric Power Act (1997), the country has managed to channel a satisfactory amount of private capital, which nowadays accounts for roughly 30% of the national electricity generation capacity. Key points of the Kenyan model are a progressive unbundling of the sector and an increasing institutional attention to the development of new technologies. Another interesting case study is Mozambique. It has indeed taken giant steps in attracting private capital, especially in the segment of generation, however transmission and distribution are still far from fully deploying investments due to the scarcity of effective public-private partnerships and the absence of structured and secure tenders and auctions.
We have outlined a complex and multifaceted picture of bright spots and challenges to be faced, which fully reflects the current status of the African energy transition. The deployment of efforts and resources aimed at improving regulatory frameworks is a necessary precondition and cornerstone of a long journey that, if fully carried out, will lead Africa to a prosperous, independent and sustainable future.