Interview

Mini-grid and maxi-task

Issue 88 - Fall 2020

Kandeh Yumkella, former director general of the UNIDO industrial development organization in Vienna, sees the long-awaited electrification of Africa as having difficulties in financing issues - and hopes for Europe.

Kandeh Yumkella, energy expert
In addition to the Corona, Africa is also in the middle of an energy crisis. Will the continent focus on new, sustainable solutions out of sheer necessity?

Yumkella: I am cautiously optimistic. The current energy problems offer an opportunity for a certain creativity to bring in new knowledge and new solutions that are already working elsewhere. We have the resources in Africa. We have the youth. We now have to get going and ride the wave. In doing so, we are faced with the challenge that we now have to plan for larger population groups. In most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the population will double in the next 30 years. Accordingly, Africa needs a fair transition that meets the great need for energy and at the same time pursues the goal of making this access more environmentally friendly and ecologically sustainable. When talking about the growing concern about climate change and the demand from around the world that Africa should resort to new, clean solutions, one must also bear in mind that Africa's energy-related contribution to greenhouse gases is currently around two percent.

What are the challenges?

Yumkella: First and foremost when it comes to financing. Money is basically available, but it is very difficult to get this money into network-based solutions. I recently spoke to some friends from Europe who want to implement mini-grid systems in Africa. You have the knowledge and the technology, but you cannot reach the capital. Mini-grids are an essential part of the African energy supply of the future. 30 to 40 percent of energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa could be covered by off-grid solutions in the future. You can get funding for one or two pilots, but it's very difficult to upgrade to a thousand or two thousand mini-grids. This is where the African governments are asked to improve their sometimes confusing regulations.

What role will European companies play in Africa's future energy supply?

Yumkella: I see a good opportunity here for a new European-African partnership. The European Union has diversified its energy sources very well and with the Green Deal it will achieve a lot in the area of ​​energy efficiency. Some of these ideas can now be implemented in Africa. The EU is currently examining the adjustment costs for some European countries that have to switch from coal to renewables. A modified version of this adjustment program could help African countries transition to a lower carbon economy that also meets energy needs. And above all, building up the African energy supply will be profitable for European companies and investors. We must not allow the corona crisis to dissuade us from this path.

The EU wants to cooperate with African partners on sustainable energy projects through the External Investment Plan.

Yumkella: Precisely such impulses are needed. European countries cannot afford to have 30 billion people next to them in 2,2 years, 60 percent of whom live in cities and have no work. So the question is: How can this demographic development be used as a potential market opportunity for Europe, as a potential investment opportunity for European companies, so that prosperity is created in Africa and people do not have the urge to migrate? It is a security problem, a major humanitarian problem - and one of the answers to that could be building new energy supplies.

Vielen Dank für das Gespräch!
Photo: Frederik Schäfer

To the main story

Charged up

The still inadequate power supply on the African continent limits the productivity and well-being of millions of people. The potential of renewable energy sources is immense – and could be realized with capital from abroad.