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Africa has significant energy challenges, with many people lacking access to reliable and affordable energy sources. However, there is an opportunity to challenge the status quo surrounding Africa’s energy transition and can help unearth its potential to lead the global effort to achieve the just energy transition vision of shaping a cleaner, more equitable energy future. 

Realising this potential requires overcoming misconceptions, addressing key challenges and leveraging the right technologies and partnerships. One of the most persistent misconceptions about Africa’s role in the global energy transition is that the continent is merely a passive aid recipient. However, according to the recent CDP Africa Report, the continent accounts for the smallest share of global greenhouse gas emissions, at just 3.8%, in contrast to 23% in China, 19% in the US and 13% in the EU.  

The continent’s vast renewable energy resources, including solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power, offer a promising foundation for a sustainable energy future. For example, the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis in 2022 reported that Kenya had made significant progress in energy transition, with 89% of its electricity generated from renewable sources. The country has abundant renewable resources and has successfully harnessed these sources to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

While Africa’s energy transition holds immense promise, we must also acknowledge and address the continent’s energy challenges. One of them is ensuring inclusive and equitable access to clean and reliable energy, particularly in rural and underserved communities. Despite the abundance of renewable energy resources, energy poverty remains a significant barrier to socioeconomic development for many Africans. 

The continent must adopt a holistic approach that prioritises energy access alongside sustainability and affordability, including decentralised energy systems and smart grid technologies that can provide reliable electricity to even the most remote areas. By leveraging digitalisation and innovative financing models, the region can optimise energy infrastructure, reduce costs and expand access to clean energy services across the continent. 

Several technologies hold immense promise for facilitating Africa’s just energy transition while addressing the continent’s energy challenges. Solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power offer scalable and cost-effective solutions to expand electricity access in remote and rural areas. Additionally, off-grid and mini-grid solutions with energy storage technologies can further enhance energy access and resilience.  

For example, Siemens recently partnered with Lamo Solar, the Eastern Cape government and GIZ Germany to introduce an independent microgrid in the remote village of Upper Blinkwater to provide electricity to 70 homes. The system provides at least enough energy for each household to run a mobile phone charger, TV and satellite dish, and a kettle. In addition, there are some communal washing machines and a few commercial machines. The Upper Blinkwater project mirrors SA’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) 2010-30 objectives, which expect renewable energy sources to power 42% of all new-build generation capacity.  

The energy sector has immense expertise in digitalisation and infrastructure solutions such as the powerful EnergyIP platform, which can facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources into the grid, enabling real-time monitoring and control of distributed energy resources while optimising energy management and enhancing grid reliability.  

The Siemens Pictures of Transformation report reveals that if sufficient energy infrastructure becomes available, experts believe SA will meet the energy demands of 95% of the population through on-grid and off-grid connections by 2040. This will include expanding the country’s transmission capabilities and grid expansion capacity. These examples are evidence that by leveraging innovative solutions, Africa can democratise access to clean energy, spur economic growth and improve the quality of life for millions of Africans. 

In addition to harnessing the power of technology, Africa’s remarkable human capital and resourcefulness can drive the continent’s just energy transition. From renewable energy entrepreneurship to community-led conservation initiatives, African innovators are crafting tailored solutions that democratise access to clean energy, safeguard vital ecosystems, and promote sustainable development.

Youth-led climate activism is gaining momentum, with African youth at the forefront of demanding accountability and driving policy change. For example, in 2023 SA’s first youth-led climate change case, the CancelCoal campaign, challenged government’s decision to procure 1,500MW of new coal-fired power, highlighting the adverse climate effects of burning coal and its implications for constitutional rights. 

People are Africa’s greatest asset, whose ingenuity and resilience drive the continent’s progress. That’s why the sector must foster local talent and support the development of a skilled workforce that can propel the energy transition even further. Through partnerships with educational institutions, vocational training programmes and knowledge transfer initiatives, the sector can empower African professionals to lead the charge in implementing sustainable energy solutions. 

• Dall’Omo is CEO of Siemens Sub-Saharan Africa.

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