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Image Peter Hain explores the impact of renewable energy on Africa in his presentation at the recent conference in London, Europe & Africa: A Changing Relationship hosted by Omega Investment Research in association with Deloitte.


The body blow delivered against the global economy by the recent financial crisis arose from banking greed and bad regulation in the US and Western Europe. Yet Africa suffered collateral damage – once again the victim of a centuries-old unequal relationship with the Western World.

Yet equality now beckons because indiscriminate threats to the whole planet, mainly through global warming and climate change, mean a shared destiny for all nations, rich or poor.

The Perfect Storm

There is now a danger of a ‘perfect storm’, with every country affected, but with Africa the main victim. Leaving aside terrorism, war and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, this ‘perfect storm’ has a number of components.

First, the banking implosion has gridlocked private credit and investment, and massively cut Western government spending and investment, triggering a financial development crisis. Apart from the UK under the last Labour Government, most G8 countries have failed to meet their 2005 Gleneagles commitment to double aid to Africa. The UN says there is a financing gap of up to $195 billion needed from developing countries to achieve its Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

There is now a danger of a ‘perfect storm’, with every country affected, but with Africa the main victim.


On top of this, rocketing food prices and an exponential increase in the demand for food, especially in China and India, is triggering an escalating crisis with food security emerging as a major problem across the globe. Water security is similarly a potential source, not only of strategic shortages, but also of conflicts between communities, regions and nations: it would not be a surprise to see water wars in future. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone 40% of the population, or 330 million people, have no accessible decent water.

Add in extreme volatility in fuel costs – with oil prices very high and forecast to remain very high – and this ‘perfect storm’ poses a particular threat to the great progress Africa has made in recent times, with the World Bank in 2008 having welcomed a decade of 4.6 per cent average annual economic growth in GDP in Africa, almost double average global rates. Add in extreme volatility in fuel costs – with oil prices very high and forecast to remain very high – and this ‘perfect storm’ poses a particular threat to the great progress Africa has made in recent times, with the World Bank in 2008 having welcomed a decade of 4.6 per cent average annual economic growth in GDP in Africa, almost double average global rates.

Harnessing Africa’s Natural Resources

So what should we do? Absolutely key is harnessing Africa’s abundance of solar, wind, tidal stream, and other sources of power to generate cheap and universally accessible renewable energy.

That would not simply provide African communities with much needed light and power. Crucially, it would also provide opportunities to generate sustainable and self sufficient wealth and employment.

Additionally green energy reduces emissions and thereby confronts global warming, in turn reducing serious African food and water shortages.

So could renewable energy be Africa's 'perfect solution' to the 'perfect storm'?

Image The scale of the challenge is daunting: seventeen of the twenty countries with the lowest electricity access on the planet are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with only 40 per cent of people in urban areas and a tiny 15 per cent of people in rural areas having electricity.

All in all 585 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are surviving without any electricity. (That is fully 100 million more people than live in all the countries of the European Union.) Quite apart from the resulting misery and poverty, a huge number of Africans are therefore without the essential prerequisite for any prosperous and stable modern society.

Energy is essential to investment in basic, let alone advanced, infrastructure. Without it, health and social services are non-existent to primitive; educational opportunities extremely limited; and there is a chronic lack of skills and skilled employment essential to prosperity. Just as damaging, in today’s rapidly changing world, getting online is impossible. Laudable initiatives to provide solar fridges are pin-pricks compared with the daunting scale of the challenge.

Such energy as is produced in these poor African communities very often comes from burning coal and petroleum, in turn contributing to climate change, causing extreme drought and floods which devastate crop harvests and cause food insecurity. Without radical change, the people of Sub-Saharan Africa will be trapped in this vicious cycle.



Europe needs to lead this change by investing in renewable energies in Africa, not least because much of Europe’s prosperity is rooted in historic exploitation of Africa and many European companies continue to reap large profits from both the material and human resources of the African continent.

That is why the Africa-European Union Energy Partnership (AEEP) could be so important. Its Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme, decided in Vienna last September, recognises that, with the help of EU investment, Africa – instead of a continent falling behind – could be a world leader in renewable energy, something which foreign private investors have not so far recognised.

Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP)

The RECP identifies the huge investment opportunity in Africa, for instance in hydroelectricity where only seven per cent of the potential energy resource is being utilised, and geothermal energy where only one per cent is being exploited.

European investors have an enormous opportunity here. But, equally important, the RECP also understands that Africa is a diverse and complex continent. Intended as a democratically responsive partnership of politicians, diplomats, business leaders and civil society representatives from both Europe and Africa, the RECP aims to make sure its projects are tailored to Africa’s priorities, needs and market conditions.

The scale of the challenge is daunting: all in all 585 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are surviving without any electricity.


For instance, Africa must not be exploited simply to help meet Europe's energy needs without assessing the impact on development and food security. European countries have already acquired or requested more than five million hectares of land for industrial biofuels in order to meet the EU's target that 10 per cent of its transport fuels should come from renewable sources. But the 2008 food price crisis, which affected many African countries, was driven by the increased use of industrial biofuels, which switched land away from food production in food insecure, poor countries to meet energy demands in the developed world.

If all global biofuel targets are met, food prices are predicted to rise by up to 76 per cent by 2020, staple food such as maize by 41 per cent. So, by 2020, hundreds of millions of more people could be hungry because of the West’s demand for industrial biofuels.

Europe’s RECP should mould its projects to benefit individual African regions according to their resources and their needs: hybrid generation and embedded generation, solar, tidal, wave, hydro, wind, biomass and geothermal.

Ambitiously, the RECP plans to bring modern and sustainable energy to at least an additional hundred million Africans by 2020 through joint EU-Africa action to build new renewable energy facilities, including 10,000 MW from hydro, at least 5,000 MW from wind and 500 MW from solar.

The RECP will also encourage the use of renewable energy for cooking, heating water, processing heat and the more efficient use of wood-fuels, as well as solar power.

The ideal would be highly developed, integrated systems, both to enable energy to be diverted quickly and flexibly to where it is needed, and to utilize intermittent renewable energy such as wind and solar on power grids.

However, given the prohibitive cost of delivering a continent-wide grid with universal access, Africa has the potential to go its own way with stand-free renewable energy and leapfrog grid-based generation as it has done so effectively in telecommunications through mobile telephony.

A True Partnership

DESTERTEC is an audacious EU-Africa Cooperation plan to cover the deserts, mainly the Sahara, with solar panels. Remarkably, more energy falls from the sun on the planet’s deserts in six hours than the world consumes in a year. The Saharan desert is virtually uninhabited and close to Europe, which is potentially a huge market for renewable energy. EU planners hope that the Sahara could one day realistically deliver 15 per cent of Europe's electricity through a super grid of high-voltage direct current cables (known as MedRing); the DESTERTEC Industrial Initiative pilot project in Morocco is a step in this direction.

Image Meanwhile China has invested more than any other nation in renewable energy technologies for its own needs, and is currently a big strategic investor in Africa. Having escaped the worst of the financial crisis that so badly damaged the economies of Western nations, and with its record of supplying soft loans, China could also be a key investment partner in African renewable energy.

China has overtaken the US as its largest trading partner – perhaps a reason why it has just been invited to join the increasingly important and influential BRIC group of countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China. Despite having a much smaller economy, the invitation doubtless reflected South Africa’s major role in the rest of Africa as the Continent becomes a destination for investment in search of Chinese-type rapid growth in the future.

Additionally, the South African government recently announced what it calls an Integrated Resource Plan to switching from the country’s heavy dependency on coal towards greener technologies such as wind, solar, biomass and nuclear. This commitment from within Africa to tackling climate change and broadening access to electricity, makes the Continent an attractive place for mutually beneficial investment in renewable technologies by international companies and countries like China.



However, although African countries increasingly look to China for investment, this has often been skewed towards China's ferocious appetite for minerals, with little or no transfer of technology and skills. So Europe should promote a true partnership with Africa, based on mutual benefit, transfer of knowledge, transparency, with the interests of the poorest at its heart.

I would like to see part of Europe’s huge aid and development budget allocated to funding a substantial investment programme in partnership with private companies. Europe can both assist Africa and assist itself in sustainable development, with investment in renewable energy an absolute priority. Although the EU-Africa relationship has been one-sided for centuries, global climate change is binding our fates together. We need each other more than ever before in the search for a ‘perfect solution’ to the ‘perfect storm’.

The Right Honourable Peter Hain MP served in the British Government for twelve years from 1997, including as Africa Minister, Europe Minister and Energy Minister. Born to anti-apartheid activists with links to Mandela that go back to the 1960's, Hain grew up in South Africa and is the author of 16 books including Don't Play With Apartheid, Mistaken Identity: The Wrong Face of the Law, Sing the Beloved Country and Mandela .
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