Published: 12-AUG-04

The world is facing the prospect that increasing demand for fossil fuel will ultimately exceed the potential supply. There is a growing realisation that the environmental and associated socio-economic consequences of depending on this fuel predicate against the unbridled use of these resources, even where such use is essential to alleviate the burden of poverty. However, significant changes appear likely within a reasonable planning time-frame. The costs of renewable energy are approaching those of conventional energy, and key technological breakthroughs may soon introduce feasible options for a substantially different and more efficient energy paradigm. The concept of a hydrogen economy is an example.

Within this context, Africa is at a crossroads. The New Partnership for Africas Development (Nepad), built on the principle of seeking empowerment for the peoples of Africa, creates a vision of an African Renaissance. However, the continent faces enormous challenges in overcoming poverty, problematic health issues, ethnic and cross-border conflicts, and barriers to greater transparency all of which are highly debilitating. The African Union (AU) through Nepad recognises that infrastructure development is essential to support its objectives, and energy is a cornerstone of its strategy. However, the development pathways and energy options available to Africa are diverse, and present both a problem and a challenge.

The problem is that the continent cannot provide all the energy needs of its inhabitants, and the challenge is how to change the paradigm in such a way that the problem can be solved.

The question is: which choices will serve the continent best as it strives to reach its goals? The potential consequences of inappropriate technology choices, or inappropriate policy and management models, could have dire long-term effects on the continent.


The lack of access to affordable, adequate, reliable and safe energy services is a major constraint on sustainable development, primarily by limiting value-adding, income-generating activities.

The UNDP report World Energy Assessment: and the challenge of sustainability of 2000, indicated that without significant worldwide changes in energy production and consumption, social inequities will increase, environmental problems such as climate change and the degrading of ecosystems will accelerate, and global economic growth will be jeopardised. The report concluded that these problems could be addressed through adopting new policies that encourage the delivery of energy services in cleaner and more efficient ways.

Nepad also identified challenges facing attempts to address poverty by means of access to energy services on a sustainable basis. These include poor information, uneven distribution of resources and needs, poor access to commercial energy services, low energy efficiency, weak institutional capacity, poor policies and strategies, and the non-sustainable use of biomass.

The Solution

Resource constraints, technology, societal and personal choices were considered to be consistent in exercising an impact on Africa. In addition, the alleviation of poverty and increased good governance were regarded as particularly pertinent. These drivers of change are further influenced by intense competition between players in the energy industry, and by innovation, which can act as catalysts and have the potential to bring about an evolutionary or a revolutionary change in the global energy system.

Ultimate success, however, depends on the levels of political co-operation that will prevail between South Africa, its SADC partners and the rest of Africa if these relationships falter, the third scenario could result.

However, there is a clear need for the development of regional centres of excellence focusing on energy, with South Africa taking the lead as the intellectual leader in regional energy systems, as well as the focal point of energy research and development. While it is the responsibility of governments to formulate policy, these centres would have a unique role to play in providing functional leadership as well as intellectual and technological guidance to governments in the consideration of issues, concerns, and key drivers to shape energy policy.

The real challenge lies in finding environmentally effective and cost-efficient technologies that make cleaner energy sources a feasible option for mass supply, thereby propelling Africa into the future.

If it is accepted that human behaviour and aspirations will drive the energy agenda, the next question is: which institutional frameworks are most suitable to best pursue such behaviours? In free markets, it is mostly price incentives that guide behaviour; in mixed political and market systems, various incentives and disincentives will drive behaviour.

The current energy situation in Africa, and the continents history, show clearly that the linear development models followed by Europe and others are inappropriate for Africa. Instead, a systems approach with a strong focus on innovation is required to facilitate development.

South Africa can make a lasting positive difference in Africa, particularly through the medium of Nepad, but this is dependent on a common understanding on where the country and the rest of the continent currently stand, and where they want to go. It is important to remember that while South Africa is classified as a developing country, its energy systems are more typical of a developed one. In contrast, the rest of Africa, with the exception of Egypt, is still generally in an earlier phase of development.

This implies that South Africa, through Nepad, can and should play a leading role in stimulating the development of energy, in this way contributing towards sustainable socio-economic development across the continent.


The three scenarios envisage:

Africa Walking Tall (having continental co-operation, Africa first) or Africa Learning to Walk (including regional co-operation, or South Africa First ( which some quarters view pessimistically.)

NEPAD and Energy

The AU recognises through Nepad that energy is the dynamo needed to support socio-economic development. This is the essential foundation of policy, which underpins continental collaboration on energy matters and each countrys respective energy policies.

NEPADs current thinking on energy is that:

� Energy is critical to development, energy is a basic need, and its cost impacts on prices of other goods and services and also on the competitiveness of enterprises.

� Energy resources are unevenly spread on the continent; there is a need to search for abundant and cheap energy, to focus on rationalising the distribution of existing energy resources, to develop solar energy conversion technology, reduce costs, and develop manufactuing infrastructure.

� Access to reliable and affordable commercial energy supply by Africa's population over the next 20 years needs to be increased from 10 percent to 35 percent or more.

� Reliability and the cost of energy supply to productive activities should be improved, to achieve six percent economic growth across the continent.

� Environmental degradation through the use of traditional fuels in rural areas must be reversed.

� The hydropower potential of Africa must be exploited and developed.

� Transmission grids and gas pipelines should be integrated to facilitate cross-border energy flows.

� Petroleum legislation on the continent needs to be reformed and harmonised.

By PT Manders and GPN Venter of the CSIR. Their paper is an abbreviated version if the booklet CSIR Energy Scenarios for Africa, in partnership with Shell.

Print this page Send this article to a friend

Subscribe now!
Subscribe to Business in Africa magazine now and receive full access to this website.
Find out more...

Market news on your cellphone
Get live JSE listed shares, warrants, major indices, brent crude oil, international markets, agricultural futures & daily market analysis via SMS on your mobile.
Find out more...

Eskom leaders forum
African business and public sector leaders define and construct a prosperous future for the continent.
Find out more...

Online travel bookings
Planning to travel? Book accommodation in Africa & South Africa here.
Book now...

�Have your say
Chat on the Business in Africa forums with other readers about the issues of the day, affecting Africa.
Post your comment...

Calculate the latest currency rates for Africa and world currencies
Find out more...

Have your magazine delivered via the Web, anywhere in the world, directly to your PC!
Find out more...

Contact us | About us | Newsletter | Subscription centre | Advertising

All material copyright Business in Africa. All rights reserved. Material may not be published or reproduced in any form without prior written permission. Read these terms & conditions. Read our privacy statement and security statement. Powered by Mail & Guardian Online &