1.2 Goals of This Project

This working paper outlines the current state of knowledge that will serve as a basis for the Scenarios and Strategies for Africa project. The goal of this project is to prepare in-depth analysis and use models and scenarios to support and feed into national renewables readiness assessments.

The project will focus on innovation and technology issues for 2035, with an outlook to 2050. The longer term perspective is needed as emerging issues and constraints should be considered in decisions taken today. Key questions are addressed in individual chapters. A number of African and international institutions have developed energy scenarios for Africa, and IRENA will work with these institutions to develop optimal strategies.

A number of energy scenario and strategy studies have been published in recent years. They include: the Africa Infrastructure Study (Foster and Briceno-Garmen-dia, 2010), the World Energy Outlook (IEA, 2010), and the Energy Revolution Study (EREC and Greenpeace, 2010). All have a continent-wide perspective. Regional organisations have developed their own energy scenarios and energy studies; for example, for Northern Africa (OME, 2008). Finally, some country energy studies have been undertaken, such as for South Africa (Edkins et al., 2010) and for Egypt (OME, forthcoming). Many country level studies are not available or not accessible and the quality varies. Some are detailed energy system assessment studies, others are investment plans or technology needs assessments.

The focus of this analysis is limited to renewable energy and renewable energy technologies as a means to overcome energy challenges. Renewables are attractive for a number of reasons, but their use must be seen in the light of competing fossil energy use options.

Given pressing energy challenges needed to be urgently met, one may ask why policy-makers should address issues that are many years or even decades away. The reason is that decisions now can entrench technology development paths that are very hard to change later on. Moreover, the energy scene is rapidly changing. Just a decade ago, new oil-fired power plants were built in Africa based on low oil prices at the time. In hindsight, this was a very costly decision. Also, the high dependence on diesel aggregates today is a consequence of insufficient energy planning and investment in the past.

Therefore, scenario and strategy analysis can support decision-making and reduce the risk of expensive choices or energy shortages in the future.

Policy-makers need reliable independent information regarding technology costs, the reliability of equipment and systems, and recent and upcoming technological innovations that may affect their policies. This is important as significant expenditures are needed. Poor decisions can cost billions of dollars. This project aims to provide accurate basic technology data.

Biomass is a special renewable energy resource in the sense that it is a scarce one with a very broad field of energy applications. Moreover, growing biomass requires land use, therefore bioenergy competes with other forms of land use, such as food crops. A systems perspective is needed to assess optimal land use. The debate regarding the feasibility of large-scale land use for bioenergy crops is politically sensitive. At the same time, land use ownership points to clear developments: already 51 million hectares of African land have been acquired by foreign investors between 2001 and 2011 (Economist, 2011) - an area equivalent to 25% of sub-Saharan cropland or the cropland of France and Germany combined (including land for food and energy crops). Before such trends are further accelerated to meet energy needs, a better understanding of the development and environmental consequences is required.

The high share of traditional biomass is another conti-nent-specific aspect of energy use, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Many attempts to change this pattern have failed and it is not clear how this problem can be resolved. This project sheds light on the barriers to the transition away from traditional biomass and the way modern renewable energy technologies can help.

Of special importance for Africa is the nexus between energy and water. Growing biomass requires water. Pumping water requires energy. Water desalination is becoming an important energy-consuming industry in North Africa. Conventional steam cycles for power plants require significant amounts of cooling water. Hy-dropower reservoirs can be used for irrigation and their combined use can make projects economically viable. These issues must be considered in energy planning.

The project also deals with technology access, innovation needs and development of equipment supply industries. Technology transfer is often discussed, but what is emerging in many countries is the critical importance of having a supply industry located within the region. Imported equipment is costly and raises issues regarding proper operation and maintenance. Local production creates jobs, it helps to build community support and economic growth and it helps to reduce equipment cost. For many technologies a significant share of the costs is not high-tech equipment but infrastructure, foundations, buildings, simple parts and the like that can be produced locally.

This project seeks to answer a number of key questions on Africa's energy future including:

  1. How can renewable energy help to improve access in Africa?
  • What is the role of centralised and decentralised power renewable energy solutions?
  • How can modern renewables help to replace traditional biomass for cooking and heating?
  • What can be learned from Morocco, South Africa, Vietnam and other countries in terms of access to electricity and replacement of traditional biomass?
  • What is the role of renewable energy for water desalination and pumping?
  • What is the role of renewable energy solutions for industrial applications?
  • What is the potential for second generation biofuels in Africa?
  • Can better regional integration help to accelerate uptake of renewable power?
    • Cost-effectiveness of renewable energy power generation in Africa
    • Desertec – North Africa as renewable energy exporter (solar/wind)
    • Regional integration, hydropower (Central/South Africa) and wind (East Africa)
  • To what extent can equipment manufacturing in Africa help to accelerate uptake?
  • What level of investment is needed to make a renewable energy future for Africa happen?