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West Africa Energy Transition | What does the Future Hold?

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Available data shows West Africa, like the other regions of the African continent,
looks unlikely to switch over to green energy by 2030. How would things pan
out for the region’s people by then?

By Ben Aguzozie

Energy transition (ET), according to S&P Global, refers to the
global energy sector’s shift from fossil-based systems of
energy production and consumption — including oil, natural
gas and coal — to renewable energy sources like wind and
solar, as well as lithium-ion batteries. Additionally, the
increasing penetration of renewable energy into the energy
supply mix, the onset of electrification and improvements in
energy storage are all key drivers of the energy transition. It
could also mean transition to a low-carbon energy mix. S&P
Global says regulation and commitment to decarbonization
has been mixed, but the energy transition will continue to
increase in importance as investors prioritize environmental,
social and governance (ESG) factors.


Awareness and understanding of the
underlying forces of energy transition is
somewhat novel in West Africa


Awareness and understanding of the underlying forces of
energy transition is somewhat novel in West Africa. It has
come mostly from the Global North, especially the European
Union (EU), which particularly has been at the forefront of
evolving technologies and policies to source energy from
renewables, in order to lessen the impact of climate change. ET
has been progressing at uneven speed among EU member states.

In West Africa, clearly among the least producers of
carbon dioxide (CO emissions to date, energy transition 2)
appears to be a novel idea. However, the region is already
facing more severe Impact of climate change than most other
parts of the world. With six of the 10 countries that make up
the Sahel region, West Africa bears the brunt of climate
change to date.


Energy situation room

West Africa particularly has one of the lowest accesses to
electricity. A 2022 World Bank estimate put the average
electrification rate in the region at 42%. In the region’s rural
areas, it is only 8%. Low electrification levels directly connect
to high energy poverty levels. A World Bank estimate


An Afrobarometer survey of 34 African
countries in 2022 found that two of the three
countries with the lowest electricity access
were in West Africa: Burkina Faso —22% and
Niger —24%.


in 2023 said some 220 million people in West Africa live
without access to electricity. Communities in the region
experience some of the highest electricity costs in sub-Saharan

Africa (SSA), making individuals in the region
predominantly vulnerable to energy poverty.
Development experts define energy poverty as a “lack of
access to electricity and dependence of the household
energy needs on burning solid biomass using inefficient
and polluting ways”. Researchers have associated energy
poverty with poor physical and mental health, respiratory
issues, chronic disease, and higher mortality rates.
Furthermore, energy poverty can limit communities’
access to clean drinking water, food security, healthcare
and quality education.


Some countries in the region depict extreme energy
poverty: Togo in a 2021 study had energy poverty in its
rural areas as high as 98%. An Afrobarometer survey of 34
African countries in 2022 found that two of the three
countries with the lowest electricity access were in WestAfrica:Burkina Faso —22% and Niger —24%.


Dormant clean energy powerhouse
Despite a particularly high energy poverty, West Africa has a
potential renewable energy capacity of 2,000 Gigawatts (GW),
which could meet the basic energy needs of its population,
according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC, 2023).
This produces an urgent demand for a pro-investment policy to
kickstart renewable energy projects across the region as the only
rational way to both decarbonize the economy and meet social
and economic needs.


This enormous renewable energy potential in the region, with a
population of 478.2 million (as of 2021), can be harnessed to play
a critical role in attacking the region’s current energy shortage.
Furthermore, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)
and African Development Bank (AfDB) Group estimate that across

West Africa, the latent renewable resource capacities are
at 1,956 GW for solar energy, 106 GW for wind energy and
162 GW for hydropower, with peaks in Mali for solar and
in Nigeria for hydropower. Currently, the region’s
renewables-based installed capacity is close to 7 GW (31%
hydropower and less than 2% in wind and solar). This
untapped bulk in renewables has the prospect to enable
countries in the region to meet the basic energy needs of
their populations, as well as their climate commitments.
Rising energy demand driven by substantial population
growth estimated at 2.5% per year, in the next few years,
rapid urbanization and economic development will
require an urgent response that includes tapping into the
region’s significant renewable energy resources.


The place of WACEC
As earlier indicated, West Africa region has a vast
renewable energy potential enough to cover unmet
power demand in the region, and achieve general access
to electricity, while supporting the region’s transition to a
low-carbon growth path. The national governments in the
region have, no doubt, taken steps to embrace clean/
renewable energy, aimed at mitigating the region’s
current energy shortage. In 2013, the Heads of State and
Government of the region’s economic grouping, ECOWAS
(Economic Community of West African States) adopted
the ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy (EREP). This was
aimed to increase the region’s renewable energy share in
overall electricity mix to 35% in 2020 and 48% by 2030.
ECOWAS Energy Efficiency Policy was further created to
compliment EREP, aimed at making available 2,000 MW of
electricity capacity through efficiency gains and ultimately
double the rate of improvements in energy efficiency. This
led to the creation of the West African Power Pool (WAPP)
and ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority
(ERERA). The ERERA originated the West African Clean
Energy Corridor (WACEC) initiative.

WACEC is promoting the development and integration of utility-scale
renewable power in West African power systems.
WACEC, endorsed by the ECOWAS Energy Ministerial
Committee in December 2016, has five key foundation
implementation plan: Zoning and Resource Assessment
— to identify sites for renewable power generation in
areas with high resource potential and suitable
transmission routes; Long-term Energy Planning Support
to African countries, in the form of regional training
workshops and power pool assessments, and national
capacity building programmes to build countries’ capacity
to handle energy planning processes and tools, and to
develop and regularly update a long-term energy sector

plans (including at national and regional level); Enabling
Frameworks for Investment — to open markets and reduce
financing costs; Capacity Building — to plan, operate and
maintain power grids and markets with higher shares of
renewables-based electricity; and Public Information and
Awareness Raising — to highlight how the corridor can provide
secure, sustainable and affordable energy.


Performance indicators
It is nearly a decade since WACEC’s endorsement. Energy analysts
and development experts can hardly put hand to figures on its
2020 target, let alone galvanized to push up the 2030 target of
achieving 48% increase in renewable energy share of West Africa’s
overall energy mix.


To achieve universal access to electricity by 2030,
the IEA estimates that countries in Africa will have
to rely on mini􀀀grids and stand-alone systems for
more than half of the new connections added
between 2022 and 2030.


To achieve universal access to electricity by 2030, the IEA
estimates that countries in Africa will have to rely on mini􀀀grids
and stand-alone systems for more than half of the new
connections added between 2022 and 2030. For example, within
West Africa, countries with high population densities like Nigeria,
Niger or Ghana, are estimated to require more formal grid
connections, supported by stand-alone systems. Available data
say in the last 10 years, the deployment of stand-alone power generation
systems has increased the electrification rate across
sub-Saharan Africa’s rural areas, due to innovative financing
models and dropping costs for solar photovoltaic (PV) panels.
However, Westcoast countries like Senegal and Guinea would
require to rely on mini-grids in addition to their national grid

expansion to provide universal access to electricity.
Additionally, countries like Mali and Burkina Faso would
have to rely broadly on both mini-grids and stand-alone
systems to meet their own universal access targets.
Reports said, as of 2023, around 385 mini-grids with a
combined capacity of nearly 0.03 GW were operating in
the region, with 95% of them powered by solar PV.
By far, most West African countries are still far behind in
the global Energy Transition Index (ETI) ranking by
position in global ranking. The ETI indicator measures the
energy system performance of countries and their
readiness for energy transition on a scale of 0–100. In
2021, available date from Statista indicate that Ghana is
highest in ETI raking, placed 56th globally. Nigeria was
distant second, placed 101st in global ranking. Others are
Senegal 106 and Benin Republic 109.


Seizing the renewable energy potential
Truly, electricity infrastructure stimulates economic
growth by enabling the supply of power for industrial
production, for delivering key public services such as
health and education, and for households. It leads to
improved quality of life through time savings, improved
communication and higher educational investments. Grid
investment is needed to expand access to electricity into
unconnected areas and to build the flexibility to accommodate a higher share of renewables in the electricity mix.


Financing West Africa’s energy transition


For the whole of Africa, it would cost US$2.6 trillion
over the next 28 years, which is nearly the size of
Africa’s current GDP of US$3 trillion.


Transitioning West Africa’s power sector to carbon neutrality and
reaching universal access to electricity would cost more than
US$500 billion in investment over the period 2022 to 2050,
according to PwC, in its African Energy Review 2022 report. 40%
of this financing would go into network and storage. For the
whole of Africa, it would cost US$2.6 trillion over the next 28

years, which is nearly the size of Africa’s current GDP of
US$3 trillion. The largest share of needed investment is in
network and storage, which is estimated to cost around
US$1.1 trillion over the period 2022-50.


Learning from Morocco’s Noor 1
Morocco’s Noor Ouarzazate Solar Power Station (OSPS),
often referred to as Noor 1 or NOORo 1 is described by
CNN as the “world’s largest concentrated solar system”
CNN, 2019) the Noor Midelt is described as the “world’s
first advanced hybridization of concentrated solar power
(CSP) and photovoltaic (PV) technologies”. Also called
Noor Power Station, is a solar power complex and auxiliary
diesel fuel system located in the Drâa-Tafilalet region in
Morocco, 10 kilometres from Ouarzazate town, in
Ghessat rural council area. At 510 MW, it is the world’s
largest CSP plant. With an additional 72 MW photovoltaic
system, the entire project was planned to produce 582
MW. The total project’s estimated cost is around $9 billion.

What lessons can West Africa learn from Morocco’s
experience in the design and implementation of West
Africa Clean Energy Corridor? Clean energy analysts posit
that, even though West Africa is taking important strides
to achieve clean energy goals in the region through the
WACEC, the policymakers and bureaucrats implementing
the program should learn from Morocco’s example and
resist the temptation of seeing the transition as merely a
technological endeavour. “They must also give serious
attention to the social challenges that scaling up energy
transitions generate in the areas of a genuine
participatory approach with a mandatory community
engagement component right from the design phase to
the end of the project, as well as local livelihood and
environmental dimensions of the project,” said Dr. Eyene
Okpanachi in a research: “Energy regime reconfiguration
and just transitions in the Global South: Lessons for West
Africa from Morocco’s comparative experience” funded
by the European Union as part of the Marie Skłodowska-
Curie Actions (MSCA).


Additionally, WACEC’s implementers should prioritize the
decision-making autonomy and self-determination of the
people above international accountability in the
renewable energy initiative to prevent the policies,
initiatives and projects from adopting a narrow notion of
justice as most transitions do, rather than prevent
injustice from taking place in the first instance, merely
focuses on adaptation, where a bad event having
occurred already, then solutions are discussed on to how
to reduce the damage.

Despite being endorsed by the ECOWAS Heads of
State and Government being beneficial to the
ECOWAS states, WACEC is driven by a regional
body that is far removed from the people


Okpanachi and group, also argue that while Morocco was able to
navigate some of the social aspects of its transition over time by
relying on the adaption approach, through MASEN’s measures to
generate positive socio-economic effects in the local
communities, without local resistance escalating to high-intensity
conflict, West Africa may not be able to achieve this feat. Despite
being endorsed by the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government
being beneficial to the ECOWAS states, WACEC is driven by a
regional body that is far removed from the people. Also, Morocco
has a history of stable government, but many countries in the
West African region are deep in the throes of multiple political
conflicts, including coups d’état, and economic crises that would
make the implementation of social welfare programs to enhance
adaptation and resilience to the negative consequences of
renewable energy development on the people a herculean task.

Therefore, West Africa’s renewable energy development must
sincerely address key issues of technical choices to ensure
universal energy access, and the democratic and equity
challenges of energy reform early in its planning stage, and at
other phases of the process, so as to make the transition truly
transformational. Not doing so may end up complicating existing
conflict dynamics, providing a new path to future conflict in an
already fragile and volatile region; thereby leading to attacks on
renewables that would herald the much-needed progress.
Indeed, building a democratic energy transformation is crucial for
West Africa, underscoring the fact that renewable energy
developments are both socio-technical transitions and complex
political processes of state-building.


It is certain that West Africa has substantial potential for
renewable energy generation, financing the ET (energy transition)
will be more herculean given the region’s countries’ current debt
crisis. For instance, as of May 30, 2023, data gleaned from IMF
identified 10 countries at risk debt distress: Ghana (in debt
distress), Guinea and Sierra Leone (high), Mauritania, Senegal,
Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, and Liberia
(moderate).

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