“Africa’s resource irony is we have abundant oil and gas, sunshine, wind and vast coal reserves – yet Africa is still power starved.”

So said George Njenga of GE Steam Power Systems at the opening session of POWER-GEN Africa in Johannesburg this morning.

“The challenge is urgent,” said Njenga. “We need to work together to bring about the change the continent needs.”South Africa’s Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown at POWER-GEN Africa

Nejnga added that smarter, more advanced technologies should be deployed to maximize the value of existing infrastructure. For example, he noted that advanced steam power generation technologies would allow coal plants to optimise their outputs and reduce harmful emissions.

His call for urgent action echoed that of South Africa’s Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown, who had earlier told delegates that “the electricity deficit in Africa is quite alarming. This lack of electricity access remains one of the biggest barriers to development and prosperity and continues to trap millions of people in poverty.”

And Brown noted that while the use of renewables in Africa was increasing, the early stages of South Africa’s Independent Power Producer programme had highlighted constraints in the alignment of the national grid to accommodate power from wind and solar.

She said renewables would only deliver on their potential if there was major investment in transmission grids.

And therefore, she said that while the government was looking to an energy mix of coal, nuclear, natural gas and hydro, supplemented by wind and solar, “for baseload generation, there are still only two real options – coal and nuclear”.

“Future development requires assessments of COP 21 guidelines and overall lifecycle costs. There is growing consensus that future cost comparisons will favour nuclear over fossil. However, more research is required.”

In line with this, the minister announced that as part of the second phase of the Eskom Power Plant Engineering Institute (EPPEI) programme, Eskom would establish a specialist centre focusing on nuclear technology. Eskom signed its second five-year, $11m EPPEI funding agreement with South African universities at POWER-GEN Africa today. The EPPEI programme funds eight Eskom specialisation centres at six universities.

Also during the opening session, William Price of Enel Green Power South Africa agreed that Africa has an abundance of renewable resources, but cautioned that “availability is not the only consideration. Political stability, appropriate regulatory environments and government support for public private partnership structures are also factors investors consider.”

He added that “we need to focus on how we use renewable and smart technologies and make the consumer the centre of the energy value chain”.

POWER-GEN & DistribuTECH Africa 2016 attracted a record-breaking attendance of more than 3000 people and continues tomorrow and Thursday at the Sandton Convention Centre. Click here for further details.