Energy ministers from 19 countries committed to the development of an Africa Clean Energy Corridor at a recent IRENA-convened meeting in Abu Dhabi. The project will span eastern Africa between Cairo and Cape Town, and is expected to incorporate renewable sources including hydro, geothermal, biomass, wind and solar.
"Africa is undergoing a sustained period of economic growth and transformation and, with its population estimated to double by 2050, there will be a resultant growth curve in energy demand," said renewable energy expert Nicholas Shenken of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "Energy investment is therefore key."
"Projects like the Africa Clean Energy Corridor represent a great step forward in providing a forum for promoting solutions to some of the inherent challenges in cross-country energy development: the identification of the most effective technologies in the right location; policy design which encourages the required investment; and the development of financial models that can actually bring projects to fruition," he said.
IRENA is a UAE-headquartered hub for renewable energy cooperation, supported by 123 countries and the European Union.
Electricity demand is expected to triple in Southern Africa and quadruple in Eastern Africa over the next quarter century. Although there have been a number of significant recent oil and gas discoveries, particularly in East Africa, Akshai Fofaria, an expert in African energy and infrastructure at Pinsent Masons, said that these would not be immediately exploitable to meet the growing demand.
"Much of the hydrocarbon discoveries in East Africa are landlocked and will require significant infrastructure investment before the oil is marketable; and high crude production without refining capacity is in any event a poor indicator of whether electricity demand will be met over the coming years," he said. "Therefore, any initiative which promotes the rapid installation of sustainable additional power capacity is very welcome."
Existing programmes for infrastructure development in Africa include a number of projects linking electricity transmission networks, which the Africa Clean Energy Corridor will build on and add to, according to IRENA.
National representatives agreed to an 'action agenda', assisted by IRENA, to facilitate the plans. It will include the identification of renewable energy development zones along the corridor so that generating facilities can be clustered in areas with significant renewable resource potential, and the development of new financing models and investment frameworks. IRENA will assist in building local knowledge and leading information campaigns. The plans will also intersect with national resource planning so that participating countries include a greater share of renewable energy in the energy mix.
"The Africa Clean Energy Corridor helps leverage the tremendous opportunity that renewable energy presents, for the best of the African states and the entire continent," said HE Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia's Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy.
"The fact that IRENA, with its resources and know-how, is able to facilitate this large-scale, trans-border initiative demonstrates the importance of the organisation for Africa and the deployment of renewables," he said.