World Energy Council talks to its new Vice Chair for Africa

Posted on 14 March 2017

The World Energy Council talks to its new Vice Chair for Africa, Dr Elham Ibrahim, on the future for energy in Africa, the many exciting  initiatives under implementation in the region, and mobilising future female energy leaders into the sector.

How do you see your role as AU Commissioner and Vice Chair for the Council’s Africa region having a direct impact on the energy sector within Africa?

My experience with the African Union can fit and complement my role as Vice Chair for Africa at the Council. I see my roles combining the work and vision of both bodies. The objectives and vision of the Union is in line with what we envision at the Council, the development of the energy sector within Africa. So we have to align our work with the Union in Africa with that of the African regional member committees.

The Council’s activities studies and initiatives should be utilised for the benefit of the region. The issues highlighted in the Councils’ Trilemma and Scenarios and Issues Monitor work are very important. By the Union feeding in information and data, it can help with the continuation of producing such reports.

What vision do you have for Africa in the next five years and what part/role do you see the World Energy Council playing in contributing to that vision?

I see the African energy landscape shifting within the next five years. There are a number of exciting initiatives being carried out within Africa currently such as the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) priority action plan until 2020.

Through full implementation of the PIDA energy sector program, Africa will reap savings on electricity production costs of US$30 billion a year through power interconnectors which will integrate the African power market through Power Pools and enable large-scale hydropower generation projects to be developed resulting increased access to power by business and households as power will move from surplus to deficit areas through inter-regional trade. Power access will rise from 39% in 2009 to nearly 70% in 2040, providing access to 800 million more people.

Both the African Renewable Initiative, and the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative will enable people to have improved energy access in the continent in the next five years. What is happening now in our member states in Africa is that many projects are under implementation some of them are huge, some small, some medium but a lot is happening. If you compare what is happening now to even five years ago the energy landscape looks quite different.

The World Energy Council can do a lot, just by its composition by bringing different stakeholders together through various platforms to facilitate dialogue. Currently in some member states the government is planning and implementing energy initiatives alone. But the Council is made up of different companies, various consumers, academic institutions as well as government so is in a unique position to bring these different stakeholders together and work with our member committees. The Council’s Future Energy Leaders’ programme  is also very important.  The issue of capacity building, preparing the new generation to take the lead within the  energy sector is vital at a time when the energy sector  is in a period of rapid transition.

As the female Vice Chair for Africa at the Council and Commissioner at the AU, how do you see your role in mobilising future female energy leaders?

Females are generally under-represented within the energy sector globally. I think it is very important to have female role models also to encourage our young ladies to enter the energy sector and focus on their successes. Currently I do not believe that the promotion of females into STEM positions in the workforce or even to study such subjects are promoted sufficiently by universities and more importantly by female students themselves. The African Union Commission encourages women by including incentives for female candidates within its job advertisements. As a means of address this issue in the short-term.

How do you see the Council’s African member committees’ role in facilitating deeper regional integration within the energy sector?

Regional meetings are very important as it gives the member committees an opportunity to exchange best practices and discuss current challenges facing the energy sector. I think the Council needs to encourage this further. I believe holding regular meetings is important as opposed to just once or twice a year as we do currently with the Africa Energy Indaba.

Even if we held frequent smaller scale sub-regional events, it would be very beneficial. For example, we currently have power pools that hold regular meetings, we could use this occasion for member committees within those regions to get together. Within these power pools there are many common regional projects that needs collaborative working.

For those member committees that are not active the Council needs to find out why there are not and seek the most effective opportunities to support them. This is one of my main priorities as Vice Chair of Africa. I will be getting in touch with those member committees who are not actively participating and try to find a solution going forward.

What do you identify as Africa’s biggest challenge when addressing the energy Trilemma?

Currently less than 10% of countries within Africa have successfully achieved the Trilemma balance. Unlocking Africa’s resource and renewables potential is vital if the continent is to meet rising electricity demand and increase electricity access and security of supply. If you look at the Council’s 2016 Energy Trilemma Index most of Africa is in the bottom 50%. We also have to take into account large regional differences in energy security, energy equity and environmental sustainability.

One of the solutions is to improve both grid and off-grid energy supply and to coordinate solutions for smart investment. If we look at the case of Namibia, they have formulated an off grid Energisation Master Plan and have devised a number of national off-grid financing mechanisms with the aim of advancing energy access to its citizens. Attracting investment is essential. Globally,  11 bn USD a year is required to achieve 100% electricity access by 2030.

In your opinion what have been Africa’s major success story of the last three years?

There are many successful projects that are happening on a regional scale. For example, in West Africa the Sambangalou Hydropower Interconnection project is well under way which will connect Gambia, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau and Senegal and is located 930 km upstream from the mouth of the Gambia River.

The dam will be located in Senegal with part of the reservoir in Guinea. This will enable an installed capacity of 128 MW, with a mean energy production of 402 GWh per year, resulting in a supply of sustainable electricity to the participating countries, control of the water level in the river basin as well as promotion of peace and stability in the region.

Under the Africa Union, there is a geothermal project in East Africa that it being funded to support developers. The Union has funded up to 80 per cent of the cost which has been allocated to specific areas such as surface studies and drilling of the first two wells. This has encouraged many developers to come on board. We have submitted approximately 60 million USD to developers for 18 projects within many different countries in East Africa. Many additional interconnection projects are currently under way such as the interconnection between Kenya and Ethiopia which is currently at the centre of activity taking place in the region.