On 16 March, the Climate Parliament hosted an international parliamentary roundtable on the potential of renewable energy auctions and energy interconnection in Africa in collaboration with Oxford Policy Management (OPM), in the context of the Energy for Economic Growth (EEG) research programme. We were joined by MPs from Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe, and by guest speaker Dr Ranjit Deshmukh, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Studies department at the University of California Santa Barbara. Firstly, Ranjit was interviewed by Climate Parliament Secretary-General, Nick Dunlop, and then answered questions from parliamentarians.
Ranjit has been working on planning tools designed to help governments and regulators identify the best places to invest in renewable energy production. They pinpoint the most energy-rich locations in any country, both to encourage project developers to build power stations, and to allow policymakers to plan the construction of new transmission lines. Indeed, since transmission lines can take around five years to set up, whereas a power plant can be built within a year, it is critical that countries have access to this type of information in order to ensure their resources can be exploited in good conditions and to their full potential. These spatial tools are open-source and can be accessed for free by both developing and more developed countries.
It is important to combine the development of new clean energy stations with a greater level of interconnection because renewable energy is weather-dependent. As the variability of renewable energy decreases over large areas, interconnections will allow us to ensure reliability of supply by matching electricity supply and demand more efficiently, and to stop reliance on conventional fuels to fill the gaps when the wind does not blow, or the sun does not shine. Africa spreads across six different time zones from Cabo Verde to Mauritius and the Seychelles, and when the sun rises on the East coast, West Africa (where it is still night-time) could be charging their electric vehicles and buses, or cooking their breakfast, on solar power from the East. And conversely, East Africa could be cooking their dinner at night on solar power from the West. African countries have already committed to several concrete interconnection projects that will allow them to trade energy across borders, with the Continental Power System Masterplan setting up a continental grid, and the African Single Electricity Market (AfSEM). These initiatives are not only important for mitigating climate
change, but they can also drive down the costs of energy by promoting a greater production of renewable energy, which is today much cheaper and cost-effective than conventional fuels. Ranjit also encouraged parliamentarians to push for more favourable conditions and government-backed guarantees at renewable energy auctions, as increased competition between project developers can lead to even lower energy costs.
Several MPs raised the point that, although many projects are on the table, progress on the ground is too slow and does not match the speed and scale at which climate change is advancing. The conclusions of the latest instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th assessment report, published in February, are warning us that if we do not move quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy, many parts of Africa will soon become uninhabitable because of extreme weather. Several parliamentarians explained that they are already observing severe consequences of global warming in their constituency, and asked questions about how they can contribute to the fight against climate change. Through legislation, MPs can pass laws promoting more ambitious renewable energy targets, or exert their budgetary power to constrain their government to allocate more funding for climate change measures and actions. In Europe, the first laws and policies that launched markets for renewable energy were not written by government experts, but by small groups of MPs. Rapid progress is indeed often led by parliamentarians, as they are in a unique position to access all stakeholders and levels of the political system. We concluded this session reasserting the key role of MPs to generate political will, which is the scarcest resource we need to advance the renewable energy transition.