Developed economy methodologies not the key to solving Africa’s energy poverty

To overcome energy poverty, Africa will have to stop relying on Western solutions, that are appropriate for developed economies, to ensure access to electricity for citizens.
Energy Security Services Africa head Gareth Gregory on Wednesday told delegates at the PowerGen Africa conference, in Sandton, that a vertically integrated approach, where a utility that electrifies as and when it is able to financially, and when there is political will, was not the solution for Africa.
“We can no longer follow that type of approach; we have been doing it for the past 50 years and, yet, there are still 650-million people on the continent who don’t have access to electricity,” he said.
Gregory added that the only type of energy most people on the continent had access to was paraffin lamps, which created downstream impacts in the form of health considerations.
“It is unacceptable that the vast majority of the African continent is suffering from energy poverty, owing, in many cases, to the fact that there is no energy infrastructure in place in certain countries,” he said.
Gregory pointed out that it was a political misrepresentation that the continent would be electrified through conventional means, such as transmission and distribution, any time soon.
Energy storage, he noted, has provided a new platform to decentralise at a technical level.
He added that the continent was on the verge of decentralised energy generation, which was gaining traction.
Through this, it would be possible to use microgrids to electrify small villages and communities, making them sustainable from an energy perspective.
“This is where blockchain and fin-tech methodology comes in. Once you start integrating technologies around energy storage and start looking at the Internet of Things, you start putting yourself in a powerful position in terms of mitigating energy poverty,” Gregory noted.
He explained that blockchain technology cuts out the middle man and allows for direct transactions.
“We can’t, however, use a technical solution without realising that there has to be some form of economic development. With energy, it brings many downstream elements with it, such as the development of the economy,” he said.
The aspect of people parity and understanding consumers, end-users and offtakers, was key, he noted.
He further added that the way a model was structured for the continent would need to include the “energy disrupter”, which would lead to benefits and solutions for many different African geographies.
“It’s not about an individual process, it’s about an integrated approach that includes economics,” Gregory said.

Anine Kilian is a Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online for Engineering News and Mining Weekly.