The debate was coordinated by Sandrine Mercier, journalist at RFI. The speakers were Gilles Pargneaux, French Member of the European Parliament, Vice-Chair of the Environment Committee, Alternate Member of the Foreign Affairs Committe ; Christian de Gromard, Energy expert and Senior Project Manager, Agence Française de Développement ; Cyril Loisel, Policy Director, Unit B1 “International and Inter-Institutional Relations”, DG CLIMA, European Commission (EC) and Philippe Méchet, Director for Institutional and European Relations, EDF Group ; Ali ZEROUALI, Director of Cooperation and Partnership of the Moroccan Agency for Solar Energy (MASEN).
Increase access to energy
The sustainable development of Southern countries involves meeting two energy challenges. The first is to increase access to energy. “Today, three-quarters of African children do not have access to electricity” (G. Pargneaux). This lack is particularly marked in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the national electrification rate is rarely above 25%.
This deficit has economic, social and political consequences. It is an obstacle to access primary care, such as drinking water and health services, and weakens education systems and economic activity. These challenges are particularly important in Africa, whose population is set to increase from one to two billion inhabitants by 2050. “Energy production will need to at least double by 2030, and even triple in terms of electricity, in order to support the continent’s development and meet demand” (G. Pargneaux).
Energy transition challenge
The second challenge is that of the energy model. “Over the next fifteen years, the bulk of the growth in energy consumption will be in Southern countries. Energy consumption is now relatively stable in the North. The challenges of energy transition, meaning of changing energy model, consequently now concern the South as well” (C. de Gromard). This challenge in particular raises the issue of diversifying the energy mix and of energy efficiency. In Africa or the Middle East, public buildings and air-conditioned hotels are, for example, often maintained at temperatures of 16-18°, which generates an excessive energy consumption.
Sustainable but untapped resources
Southern countries have a number of sustainable energy sources which are particularly adapted to these challenges: from wind to solar energy, including thermal solar energy and photovoltaics. Several projects illustrate this potential, such as the Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo or the Ouarzazate plant in Morocco, the largest solar thermal power plant in the world, commissioned in February 2016. “By 2018, it will supply electricity to 1.1 million Moroccans, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 760,000 tons a year and reduce oil consumption by 2.5 million tons a year” (G. Pargneaux).
However, this sustainable energy potential remains largely untapped. In Africa, for example, “photovoltaic initiatives remain in their infancy, and only 7% of hydro capacity and less than 1% of geothermal capacity are exploited” (G. Pargneaux). This deficit is sometimes due to the security context: “It is still extremely difficult to attract international private capital in certain areas where there are fragile conditions” (C. Loisel).
Implement aid at every level
Renewable energy development in Southern countries can be supported at various levels. Certain strategies are on a regional scale: for example, the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, launched in 2015 in the context of COP21, aims to “increase renewable electricity generation by 10 gigawatts by 2020 and by an additional 300 gigawatts by 2030” (C. Loisel). The electrification project for Africa, led by Jean-Louis Borloo in the context of the Energies for Africa foundation, can also be mentioned.
Other strategies target areas where access to electricity is the most limited. This is the case for ElectriFI, “the European Commission’s investment facility which supports electrification in rural areas in the poorest African countries” (C. Loisel).
The rural-urban divide is a fundamental issue for access to energy. “In a number of Sub-Saharan African countries, it is not profitable to provide a network” (P. Méchet). Resolving this difficulty implies implementing systems that are more flexible or easier to set up, such as small photovoltaic kits or micro-dams. “At the Chinese border of Kyrgyzstan, EDF has installed micro-dams in an off-grid village, which is consequently less interesting for the State. […] This has created a local economy, developed the health status of the village, and supported the local school” (P. Méchet).
Supporting renewable energy development also requires taking action on carbon pricing, for example, by eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. Yet this strategy can have a high social cost in Southern countries. “It is essential to support countries in this transition. The European Union offers its technical assistance, via the World Bank, in order to help certain countries develop alternative solutions” (C. Loisel).
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.