Energy storage will boost Africa’s energy transformation

The continent finds itself well-placed to use vast renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal and wind power to fill this demand, writes Mamadou Goumble, CEO Energy Businesses, JCG.

Projects such as the Africa Clean Energy Corridor are accelerating the development of renewable energy as fossil fuels decline in usage and popularity. Yet creating a reliable supply of clean energy remains out of reach for many countries, due to weaknesses in existing storage technology.

To unlock this green energy potential, business must invest in innovative new storage technology. JCG, in fact, has already taken action, investing $13 million in Highview Power, a developer of liquid air long-duration energy storage systems. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Storage strife

Currently, energy grids only rely on renewables for 30% of their power supply. This is largely thanks to the intermittent nature of wind and solar. Improved storage would improve this. In fact, poor storage is contributing to an energy deficit estimated to be holding back Africa’s growth by 2 to 4% every year.

This is stifling the creation of jobs, and curbing development in industry, education, healthcare and more. Currently, there are few, if any, utility-scale energy storage projects across Africa which have both flexibility to serve dispersed communities, and the green credentials to fit in with countries’ changing energy demands.

What of existing solutions? Wastage is rife within batteries, where if one part fails, the whole unit is often scrapped. Lithium, cobalt and nickel, core battery components, have long faced scrutiny over the environmental impact of their extraction. The building of hydro or solar plants still requires a large ‘down payment’ of hazardous materials and fossil fuels. Even success stories like Morocco’s’ Ouarzazate’s solar plant don’t represent a self-sufficiency silver bullet; last year Morocco’s energy import increased by 47.3%.

Returning to the status quo is unworkable. COVID-19 has exposed the weakness of Africa’s oil-dependent economies. In 2020, they shrank by an average of 4%, versus 0.4% among oil importers (excluding South Africa). Renewable energy, then, is clearly the way forward. But when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, we cannot afford for grids to go down: the energy revolution across Africa relies on practical energy storage as much as it does on embracing renewable energy in the first place.

The need for innovation

Innovation in new storage technology is the answer. It represents a catalyst which is key to unlocking reliable power for millions of Africans. And aided by the increasing demand for renewable energy – East Africa alone has 2,000MW of new solar and wind projects due by 2022 – there have been several encouraging recent developments in the industry.

For example in South Africa, companies have been investing in storage solutions to avoid disruptions due to Eskom’s perennial problem with power outages. The US Trade and Development Agency has just agreed to fund a feasibility study for what would be Senegal’s first grid battery.

Returning to our own investment in Highview Power their ‘CryoBattery’ technology offers multiple gigawatt hours of storage, whilst retaining scalability. It has no size limitations and produces zero emissions and we hope to first deploy this technology in countries with thriving renewable energy sectors such as Kenya, Senegal but also islands like Equatorial Guinea.

Ultimately, we believe that these innovations will be a stronger long-term solution for both the 500m Africans migrating to urban settings, and the rural communities that have for too long been passed over by new energy projects.

Unleashing Africa’s energy potential

By next year, the International Energy Agency suggests that renewable forms of technology in sub-Saharan Africa alone will have increased capacity from 35GW to 60GW compared to 2017 levels. The renewable energy sector promises jobs and wider social benefits, and replacing fossil fuels with renewables will also mean that future global economic shocks hit Africa less hard than COVID-19 has done.

For all this to happen, countries must have a safe, dependable method of storing the energy they create. Business and individuals alike must be prepared to take significant steps, whether in the form of investment, collaboration, or research, to find a solution to a burgeoning energy crisis.

The innovation we’re witnessing today can create access to reliable and affordable energy – providing industry is willing to step up and embrace the new wave of technology which has the potential to transform the energy picture across Africa.