African legislators discuss how green grids can accelerate the transition to renewable energy

Updated: Mar 11

The Climate Parliament hosted an international virtual parliamentary roundtable for African legislators to discuss the role that green electricity grids can play in accelerating the transition to renewable energy.


Parliamentarians from Algeria, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda , Zambia and Zimbabwe discussed the issues they faced and the support they needed with Climate Parliament’s Secretary General Nick Dunlop and Professor Yacob Mulugetta from University College London, a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and workstream leader on the Climate Compatible Growth programme.


Presentations

Nick Dunlop highlighted the urgency of tackling climate change by showing that the rate of increase of the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere had remained largely unchanged over the past sixty years. Looking at the graph, he pointed out, you could see no difference to this upward trend as a result of the climate negotiations that have been taking place for nearly 30 years.


He noted that the IPCC reported that, if emissions continue at current rates, we only have around seven years before we overshoot the target set at the Paris climate talks of limiting global warming to below 1.5oC above pre-industrial levels. With two-thirds of all climate emissions originating from burning fossil fuels, we have to completely eliminate burning fossil fuels within the next few years.


Against this backdrop, he pointed out that we have the technology available to utilise wind and solar power and that Africa stood out on global maps as having an abundance of both. Electricity interconnectors across the continent would enable countries to export and import clean energy and would be economic enablers. Europe and India are planning green grids to harness and distribute renewable energy and the African Union plans to connect the continent with high-voltage direct current (HVDC) cables.


He remained confident that with political will, we can still avert the worst effects of climate change and pointed out that as governments and ministers come and go, the role of Parliamentarians is key to progressing the change we want to see.


Professor Yacob Mulugetta pointed out that exceeding the Paris climate target of 1.5oC had real implications for Africa. As oceans absorb heat, he explained, a global average increase of 1.5oC could result in a 3oC rise in parts of Africa which would have major impacts, especially on farming and fishing communities.


He also highlighted that while this has been a story of risk, it is also a story of hope and that there were great opportunities for Africa. The transition to renewable energy would be an economic enabler for many countries and it will bring economic returns to Africa.


Discussions

Dr Sergio Missana, Executive Director of the Climate Parliament, who chaired the meeting, then opened the discussions after delegates introduced themselves.


Discussions started with observations of the more extreme weather conditions facing African countries. It was pointed out that where it rained, it now flooded and dry areas were more prone to drought.


While Africa only contributed four percent of global emissions, many African countries were already at the forefront of the impacts of climate change and without urgent action, would likely face even greater challenges from global warming.


It was pointed out that MPs from the Global North were not at the meeting to answer for their own emissions and to outline the cuts they proposed for their own countries. Climate justice was key to the discussions and could be used to stimulate interest in in Africa. While the focus was on Africa, it was important to show what the effects on other parts of the world would be too, with the example of climate refugees given as one example.


It was noted that the transformation to renewable energy not only cuts climate emissions but is an economic enabler that brings great health benefits too.


In some regions, solar panels were more expensive than elsewhere and there needed to be a reduction in renewable energy prices to encourage adoption in rural areas, especially where there were no interconnectors. Some people would prefer to be linked to the national grid rather than a mini-grid as they believed they would receive bigger subsidies in electricity prices if they did so. In many rural areas, affordability was seen as a major issue, especially where poverty reduction and access to clean water and sanitation were higher priorities. Access to funding for renewable energy projects would be key to take up in these areas.


In some countries, it was difficult to engage with ministers and high-level political engagement was required. It was suggested that the International Solar Alliance’s invitation to ministers about the launch of the One Sun Charter at the COP26 climate talks could be a useful method of engaging with ministers. In addition, Dr Missana agreed to share a decision tree tool for policies that had been prepared by the Climate Parliament to assist ministerial engagement.


Barry Gardiner MP, a trustee of the Climate Parliament joined the meeting and reiterated that the focus on climate justice was very important. Climate jobs had to be top of the agenda at COP26 and that the transition to renewable energy and the construction of green grids was a real opportunity for sustainable development across Africa. It was also important that people working in the fossil fuel industry in African countries were redeployed.


He pointed out that yesterday, in the run up to COP26 the FACT (Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade) Dialogues were launched to encourage more sustainable use of forests and agriculture and ensure that this $80 billion trade was just and sustainable. Legislators could make ministers aware of the FACT Dialogues as a means of engaging with them.


It was pointed out that some countries did not want to open up their markets to renewable energy and it was important to enable people to invest in renewable energy and recover their money. This was especially the case in countries that had recently discovered oil or coal reserves. It was thought to be a difficult to ask ministers to ignore these reserves and transition straight to clean energy.


MPs from countries further along the road to transition shared some of their successful policies which included focusing on making sure that hospitals, schools and clinics were connected to renewable energy sources.


It was pointed out by another MP that most African countries have a huge energy deficit, and he was very encouraged by the discussion as renewable energy could provide energy security for many countries.


He believed that mini-grids were quick wins in terms of the energy deficit but being able to guarantee base load supply and energy storage were important factors. A financial model was needed to fund mini-grids and it was also important to ensure that once established, consumers could continue to benefit and were not later disconnected due to poverty.


MPs requested assistance in persuading governments to invest in large-scale renewable energy projects so that all policymakers were involved from the beginning of a proposal. They wondered what assistance there was for funding large scale projects, while others wondered how much they would be expected to pay for the construction of green grids, how much would they pay for subsequent transmission costs and whether they would be able to subsidise clean energy for the poorest consumers.


It was also noted that green grids were only part of the solution and that carbon storage and sequestration were the other part. Africa also needs food security and it was asked how this could be combined with the introduction of new technology for green grids. It was suggested that African governments need to work together on a pilot project.


It was highlighted that women are most affected by the impacts of climate change, both impacted by the effects of extreme weather as well as economically as they were often the principal earner for a family. Access to clean energy was important in everything that they do, and it was vital that women could afford to use it. Affordability of rural mini-grids for women was seen as a key consideration and women need to be engaged in the planning of green grids to ensure that they had secure, long-term access to clean energy.


Concluding remarks

Professor Yacob Mulugetta said he had learnt a lot from the discussion, when asked to respond to some of the points raised by the parliamentarians.


On encouraging countries to move away from fossil fuels, he pointed out that discovery does not equate to access, and that untapped fossil fuel reserves could be stranded assets as the fossil fuel industry is facing a rapid decline as they run out of resources as major investors such as equity and pension funds pull out.


He pointed out that renewable energy is cost competitive, with solar PV being the cheapest energy available, and noted that electricity storage costs had reduced dramatically over the past two years.


Large scale grids can supply electricity across borders and so can be considered as a means of storage as, if you can transmit solar energy east to west, you reduce the need for baseload capacity which can also be supplied by thermal and hydro power. Renewable energy also had advantages in opportunities for deployment as it is modular and more flexible, he added.


In addition, in the wider economy, large multinational companies are moving to net zero and Africa is heavily engaged in this value chain, so the transition to renewable energy had long-term economic benefits.


Nick Dunlop concluded the discussions by pointing out that it was important for parliamentarians to be talking to their ministers especially about the invitations they had received from the International Solar Alliance to participate in the Green Grid Initiative.


He pointed out that some of the major countries responsible for climate emissions are building green grids such as China and the European Union and that the new Biden administration was enthusiastic about building a green grid in the United States of America.


But, he added, no country was going fast enough, and the Green Grid Initiative was a platform to work together and build greater ambition. He noted that the Association of Small Island States had played a key role in international climate negotiations in urging the big emitters to act faster and he saw a similarly important role for Africa.


The African Union have ambitions to build a green grid covering the whole continent and the more interconnections that were built would make electricity supply cheaper and more reliable.


He noted that Ethiopia had raised funds by holding an auction for the first 100Kw with help from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) who had provided ‘off-the-shelf’ documents that they could use. Ethiopia made investment in renewable energy bankable by giving a sovereign guarantee to the scheme and agreeing to pay the supplier in US dollars, thereby minimising any exchange rate risk. ACWA Power had won the auction with a supply price of 2.5 cents per Kilowatt/hour (Kw/h) which was far cheaper than coal which was priced at around 7-8 cents per Kw/h.


Nick Dunlop thanked the Parliamentarians for attending the meeting and praised the work of the Climate Parliament groups across Africa. He thanked them for the valuable work they are doing to accelerate the transition to renewable energy in their countries and reiterated the importance of raising the invitations from the International Solar Alliance with their ministers.


He closed the meeting stressing that this year was very important for us and he looked forward to working with everyone to organise for the COP26 climate negotiations in November which he believed could be the most important climate conference to date.

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