When COMESA engaged AFCTA for regional renewable energy revolution

As nations around the globe race to achieve SDG 7 to end the energy poverty worldwide, for Africa this goal seems farfetched as over 600 million people across the continent lack access to electricity according to the World Bank.

More so when the average energy consumption per person in Sub – Saharan Africa with exception to South Africa ranks lower at a mere 180kWh in comparison to 13,000kWh in the United States and 6,500kWh in Europe as reports the African Development Bank.

According to findings of a 2022 analysis by the International Energy Agency, the energy deficit on the continent is deepening financial difficulties of utilities, increasing risks of blackouts and rationing, leading to a sharp increase in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. This is causing the number of people affected by food crises to quadruple in some areas. The audit also indicates that fewer than 40% of African countries will reach the universal access to electricity by 2050.

Worst still are economic loses of nations amidst the energy crisis with the world bank estimating a loss of 6.1% of GDP annually in Zimbabwe, a familiar story in South Africa which registered a limited economic growth of 0.5% in 2023 and Malawi whose low electricity access estimated at 12 % continues to hamper economic activities.

It is indisputable that the escalating energy crisis in Africa stands a threat to aspirations of the Africa Single Electricity Market Initiative and regional integration projects aimed at promoting Intra-Africa trade which are core to regional blocs such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and East African Community (EAC).

Certainly, COMESA and Partners have a responsibility in solving Africa’s energy crisis which among other factors is said to be resulting from aging infrastructure, lack of investments and climatic impacts, as doing so would ensure successful implementation of regional integration projects.

Particularly for COMESA, a region with access to electricity projected at 60%, power shortages were already hampering industrial production thereby threatening goals of the COMESA industrial Policy (2015) and Strategy (2017) which aspire to expand the industrial sector by promoting intra-regional trade and increase availability of goods and services for Intra-Common Market.

Kapwepwe: Investing in energy infrastucture is key.

Chileshe Kapwepwe Secretary General for COMESA is on record saying investing in energy infrastructure was key for the bloc to achieve its 80% target of electricity access by 2040.

“It is virtually impossible to achieve sustainable development without adequate investment in electricity infrastructure, the lack to access to reliable electricity supply not only hinders economic growth but also limits opportunities for individuals and communities to improve their livelihoods” Kapwepwe said.

Also, at danger are benefits that COMESA stands to gain from the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA), with the AFCTA alone estimated to increase energy and mining exports by 9 billion and industrial exports by 43.3 billion come 2040 as reports the Nation’s Economic Commission for Africa.

For instance to achieve goals of the free trade area initiatives, COMESA member states must add value to their products to make them more competitive, however with almost half of the population in the region lacking access to electricity, the energy deficit is a threat to value addition.

Tchereni: Energy shortages are detrimental to AFCTA.

As notes Dr. Betchani Tchereni, Secretary to the Treasury for Malawi, power shortages in the region were preventing member states from positioning themselves in competitive sectors of production that would maximize their exports and returns from the free trade area initiatives.

“The AFCTA and TFTA emphasize the need to add value to various products produced following competitive advantages each country may have. Value addition requires that machines be readily available powered by readily available energy. Having such energy deficits would imply that value additions may not be taking place. In this way the agenda of the AFCTA and TFTA to increase incomes and export value for commodities will not work”. Tchereni explained.

Although COMESA has prioritized the development of regional energy infrastructure and established specialized institutions such as, Regional Association of Energy Regulators for Eastern and Southern Africa, Eastern Africa Power Pool and adopting the COMESA Model Energy Framework which has introduced reforms in the sector, as well as launching a 1.5 billion project  funded by the African Development Bank to improve electricity regulation, the present energy deficit of 40% in the region presents an urgent crisis needing serious attention.

Fortunately for the region which predominantly relies on gas and oil for its energy production, its abundant natural resources provide opportunities for renewable energy with a 2023 report by ISS African futures estimating that COMESA could increase renewable energy production to 52.7% of its total energy generation by 2043.

As one solution, Dr Fadhel Kaboub, Senior Advisor for Power Shift Africa challenges COMESA and the rest of Africa to boost investments towards renewable energy, arguing this would safeguard implementation of regional projects that require adequate power in various sectors such as transportation, health, sanitation, education.

Kaboub: Renewable energy is the solution.

“Africa cannot successfully implement the AFCTA without energy and transportation infrastructure so we need to boost investments towards renewable energy. It is not by accident that Africa top oil exporters import most of their fuel from international suppliers in the global north, it is by design. Oil companies in the global north control the technologies for prospecting, drilling and refining fossil fuels, they use a classic play book to make oil rich countries energy poor and use their mercy to power our economies “Kaboub explained.

Also , Simon Stiell , Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is supportive of renewable energy investments at a time a 2022 report by the Renewable Energy Agency titled The Renewable Energy Transition in Africa: Powering Access, Resilience and Prosperity indicates the continent has potential to generate 1,000 times of its electricity needs by 2040.

Stiell: We need a 60% boost in renewables.

For Stiell, to achieve the 2040 projection, COMESA and the rest of Africa must boost uptake of renewable energy to account for 60 per cent of power generation in the continent by 2030.

“Wind and solar energy infrastructure are now cheaper to build than fossil-fuel power plants in 85 per cent of the world, to deal with the energy crisis COMESA must invest in renewable energy. If micro grids based on solar and wind are built in rural areas, this stands to reduce the energy crisis” Stiell said.

Further, Wangari Muchiri, Director of Africa for the Global Wind Energy Council notes renewable energy is the way to go to solve the present power deficit in the region at a time Africa was making headway in embracing clean energy.

The observation from Muchiri follows a 2023 report by Zero Carbon Analytics titled Africa’s Energy Transition : Solar and Wind Fuel Energy Security, which indicates that between 2010 and 2020, 86% of private energy investments in Africa were directed towards renewables in Southern Africa, 82% in East Africa and 67% in North Africa.

Muchiri: We need investments in solar and wind.

“The exponential rise in wind and solar energy projections indicate that an inspiring moment towards a sustainable future. These investments not only address climate change but also foster job creation and reduce dependence on volatile fossil fuel prices” Muchiri said.

However, Dr Fredrick Nyanga Chairperson for the Association of Energy Regulators for Eastern and Southern Africa is on record saying the main challenge for COMESA countries is that generation capacity is not enough to cover the nation own needs and cross- border trade.

Currently the total installed energy generation capacity in the COMESA region is estimated at 92,000 megawatts with thermal energy accounting for 69% of the power. Meanwhile the estimated cost of energy projects which have been identified in the COMESA compendium of priority infrastructure projects which include energy are worth about $15 billion.

The need for African nations to increase investments towards renewable energy was also emphasized at the African Climate Summit and the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP 28) held last year as solution to solving the present energy crisis on the continent. Therefore COMESA needs ensure that a significant chunk of its energy investments is directed towards renewables which have great potential to boost electricity production in the region.

Most importantly, COMESA needs to capitalize on opportunities created by the African Continental Free Trade area by prioritizing the development of regional electricity markets and leveraging climate finance to supplement funding of the regional markets. COMESA must also assess the business case for establishing regional electricity market operators with focus on renewable energy to promote access to reliable, sustainable and modern energy in the region.

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