In this article, we are talking about the seven bright lights from the Central Africa Energy Summit:
- Light 1: Richest in resources, poorest in Energy, so NO EXCUSE!
- Light 2: Strong push for Renewable Energy
- Light 3: Central Africa Republic (ACR) and Equatorial Guinea open for green business
- Light 4: Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) as a new model to finance the power sector
- Light 5: Power interconnections through the Central Africa Power Pool
- Light 6: Development of local skills and knowledge transfer
- Light 7: Multilingual region, multilingual conference
* Me yega a dear RiA-der! I nke laa??
I must warn you now, although my body is physically back, my mind is still away. Don’t worry I am not talking about a spiritual out of body experience (although there would be similarities) but about my return from the land of the African Football Champions …Cameroon. Yes, I know they won’t be going to Russia, but let’s said they didn’t fancy the climate. Not hot enough?.
Like we did for previous summits in Ghana and London, I attended the two-day Future Energy Central Africa conference in Yaounde and the least we could say is that it was very interesting. Ok, apart from having the luxury of being back “home” and mingling with shakers and movers of the industry, I would say seven key points stood out for me: The seven bright lights of the Central Africa Energy summit.
Light 1: Richest in resources, poorest in Energy, so NO EXCUSE!
Yes, that is the stark contrast. Central Africa is arguably the richest African region in terms of resources and yet the poorest for energy coverage. With two of the largest African hydroelectricity powerhouses, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and Cameroon, the region has enough to power the whole region and to some extent the continent. And yet, as the CEO of Eneo (the Cameroonian utility) and president of PEAC (Central Africa Energy Power Pool) mentioned, the electricity coverage across the countries is only 20%, well below the African average standing already low at around 35%. Like Kah Walla, the brilliant businesswoman and political leader, said: “No more excuses”, the time for action is NOW. Opening the second day of the conference, she did an excellent job at explaining the various energy challenges in the region, among which, the over-dependence on the hydro resources, the low diversification and the problem of governance. From my humble opinion, she was the most effective speaker and absolutely nailed it. Her message is certainly not vain as Central Africa is (finally) showing some desire to address the issues. Never too late to do the right thing!
Light 2: Strong push for Renewable Energy
The good old adage said it all “In crisis, lies an opportunity”. This is very much the case in here. With extensive hydro resources, a good distribution of Solar and some favourable wind regimes in North of Cameroon and Chad, Renewable Energy has a formidable opportunity to contribute to the energy access mission. Although being capital intensive, these projects are in principle quicker to deploy and are more advantageous on a long term and environmental basis. All the countries present at the conference express strong willingness to boost and integrate renewable energy into the current mix, especially Solar as the region is heavily dominated by hydroelectric power stations (e.g. In PEAC, hydro capacity represents almost 70% of the total 6,500 MW capacity). For renewables advocates like me that was encouraging to hear, especially when we know solar is very much compatible with hydro (What is to blame during droughts…the Sun! We might as well exploit it and win somewhere?). True, projects still need to happen and this is where disappointment has been experimented on many occasions in Central Africa. Various reasons have been advanced, political instability or economic reasons, but hey, let’s choose to be hopeful will you? Strong advocacy will make it a reality someday!
Light 3: Central Africa Republic (CAR) and Equatorial Guinea open for green business
These two countries are two of the reasons I am particularly hopeful. Without a shadow of the doubts they are one the bright lights of the summit. Ok, I’ll give it to you we did not get blessed by a ministerial presence but at the same time, we were very fortunate to rub shoulders with very capable officials who clearly lay out the opportunities in their respective countries in plenary and breakout sessions. Whether you are talking about CAR who has almost entirely liberalise its energy sector or Equatorial Guinea which has passed new energy legislation favourable to self-production and envisaging to build two new industrial cities, both are clearly calling for developers and investors to express their interest. Process to make contact seem simple enough! Should you be one of those, do not hesitate to make contact or get in touch with RiA should you need help.
Light 4: Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) as a new model to finance the power sector.
This topic was clearly one of the main talking points of the conference. The biggest obstacle for rolling out projects and seriously boost the sector is still Finance. Increasing the capacity and extending the grid require massive investments and public funds alone would not be sufficient. As Jean-Jacques Ngono, managing partner of Finergreen explained in a couple of occasions, both in a panel discussion and the CAR breakout session he brilliantly led, a multi-megawatt project in Central Africa would not be financed locally. Almost certainly international donors and private sector would need to step in and automatically international standards would need to be met. PPP could then be part of the solution. If the model has already been explored in the generation side, it still needs to be applied in the transmission. The panel discussion I led, focusing on the transmission networks did explore the option, facilitated by the study carried out by the World Bank and Castalia on the very same subject.
Light 5: Power interconnections through the Central Africa Power Pool
Through the admission of its president, PEAC recognizes that the level of interconnections between countries is very weak and by consequences, cross-borders power trade is significantly lower than other African power pools. Only 1% of power is exchanged, compared to 7 % in West Africa according to a KPMG report. PEAC is visibly determined to change this dynamic and increase trade between nations to take advantage of the complementarity of energy sources. As an example of this new resolution, we have learned that PEAC is currently working on an interconnection project between Angola, DRC and Congo and tangible progress has been recorded. It is great to learn about concrete realisations like this one. Far too often, as Central Africans, we could be guilty of talking and not doing. Am I right RiA-ders? Those of you from the region are probably smiling. Yes, YOU!!!
Light 6: Development of local skills and knowledge transfer
Unless the local workforce is properly trained, the lack of skills could be a serious impediment to the implementation of energy projects in the region. One of the key aspects though is to understand what to prioritise between the actual work experience and the degree. As demonstrated by the various parties amongst which Brian Makungo from Kague Gorge Regional training Centre, there are critical success factors for effective skills training programmes. Identifying and mapping the required skills through training needs assessments would be one of them, same as fostering and recognising the flow of skills across continent. Energy companies should not bear the sole responsibility of this task, instead it has to be a collaboration between the state or region, the industry and the right education bodies. Central Africa should certainly take some inspirations from North Africa that has successfully deploy training programmes. Cameroon is hopefully taking the lead by opening discussions with Tunisia for the transfer of technology knowledge. The collaboration with Tunisian-based Borj Cedria Ecopark to implement training programme in clean energy for Cameroonian engineers is an excellent initiative for the energy sector.
Light 7: Multilingual region, multilingual conference
Undoubtedly, one of the beauty of this conference rests on the fact that it was a multilingual conference, where we had interventions in English and French (Cameroon being recognised as a bilingual country) , but also in Spanish and Portuguese with the presence of Angola and Equatorial Guinea delegates. Although having to rely on translations to fully grasp the content to certain exchanges, It was in fact beautiful to see. This for sure is one of the top assets of Central Africa. On a personal note, having taken Spanish lessons few years ago, it was an unexpected twist for me having to practise it at the conference. Now, I cannot guarantee the other party did manage to understand me correctly, but I could at least confirm that by the way they were shaking their head, I believe I have at least made a good impression on them. Seeking the truth, was really a sign of approbation or despair? We will never know but what I could safely tell RiA-ders is to never neglect your languages skills, you never know when you would need them and they might win you sympathy and even better …Money!
**Kel i Lam
* Me yega a! I nke laa?? : “Good Morning! How are you? ” in Basaa
** Kel i Lam : “Have a good day” in Basaa
Bassa is a bantu language spoken by the bassa people, who represent approximately 5% of the Cameroonian population. The Bassa land is located between Douala and Yaounde and the language is mainly spoken around Edea but also Douala.
- Future Energy Central Africa: http://www.future-energy-centralafrica.com/
- ESI Africa: https://www.esi-africa.com/
- PEAC: http://www.peac-ac.org/