Climate Change

17 May 2023

Energy Transition, Access and Security Key Topics at Enlit Africa

17 May 2023  by   

Vuyelwa Mahanyele, regional sales director for GE's gas business in Southern and East Africa delivers keynote address at Enlit Africa day one. Image Source: ESI Africa.

Enlit Africa day one started with a keynote address from organisers and sponsors painting a picture of Africa’s power and energy sector rolling up its sleeves to get the energy transition done.

David Ashdown, CEO of Enlit Africa organiser VUKA Group, started by acknowledging the many difficult topics the power and energy sector could talk about such as loadshedding and lack of grid access: “They are real and affect every single one of us.

“However, I also recognise the solar projects at both utility and domestic scale, battery energy storage, off-grid power, microgrids – Eskom has brought a mini-grid to power the delegate lunch – digital solutions, innovative start-ups changing the way we generate and commercial power; alternative power solutions; EVs; energy resilience and sustainability; capacity building; funding and investment; and the undeniable will to do good from the energy industry that we speak to every day,” said Ashdown.

“I recognise that the current scenario we are living in is the disruptor. We can take a decision to embrace change or reject it. It’s not going away. One choice leads to our future, the other to our failure. This is our Kodak moment, the Uber experience. The exponential adoption of technology is happening, and the cost of electricity is coming down.

“It is an incredibly exciting time to be at the heart of it all in Africa,” said Ashdown.

Africa cannot afford to be left behind in the energy transition race

James Mackay, CEO of the Energy Council of SA, emphasised that South Africa cannot afford to be left behind as the race to corner the global energy market accelerates.

He pointed out that global clean technology investment overtook financing of fossil fuel projects for the first time in 2022.

“We have to ask, who will provide the investment for a just energy transition [in Africa] and how do we address the triple challenge [of energy security, affordability and sustainability]? When doing that, addressing socio-economic challenge must be front and centre.

“South Africa will decarbonise and we will transition,” Mackay pointed out. But, the risk of being a late adopter [of clean technology] will further entrench problems, he reminded.

“If we can’t be agile enough to recognise the economic opportunities in clean technology, we will be excluded from global markets,” said Mackay.

Vuyelwa Mahanyele, regional sales director: gas Southern Africa for GE Vernova reiterated the message that decarbonisation of the energy sector is already underway. “We gather to reflect on the efforts to transform our sector. We do this so our countries can compete on the global stage,” she said in her keynote address.

“Energy access in our region remains the lowest across the world. Access to energy is not just about the quality of life, it’s essential for health, social welfare and economic growth, but it continues to be the daily struggle facing the African citizen.”

Lack of energy access hampering Africa’s economic growth

She sees a fourth dimension to the energy trilemma for Sub-Saharan Africa – the need to develop large infrastructure projects and the need for the jobs and skills to create the energy required to lead the continent’s economic development.

“Decarbonisation is not as straightforward as we want it to be. Its not just renewable energy and batteries, which are critical,” said Mahanyele. She thinks that considering the global disruption the energy sector is undergoing, when confronted with the choice of industry shutdowns, blackouts and the effect on people, the continent has to consider both renewable energy sources and carbon emitting sources have a role to play. “Without planning to incorporate both of these into our system, we won’t achieve energy security.”

Some of the themes GE Vernova are seeing coming up in the power and energy sector globally is the need to invest in smarter grids; the importance of digitalisation and AI; hydrogen, carbon capture and battery energy storage systems increasingly being rolled into auxiliary services for the grid; a move from larger scale nuclear power plants to smaller modular reactors for future baseline power; and the importance of gas-to-power for transition towards cleaner energy.

“The role of gas has been subject to some debate, but natural gas is playing a critical role around the world and for us, the future of gas is looking positive.”

While she notes the important role of technology in the sector, Mahanyele said enabling policies do make a world of difference, but it must be remembered that the entire energy market ecosystem also encompasses physical, financial and social infrastructure.

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