This is the belief of Dr Lawrence Jones, vice-president of Alstom Grid’s Utility Innovations & Infrastructure Resilience division.

Participating in a panel discussion at last week’s POWER-GEN Africa in Cape Town, Dr Jones said that for Africa to achieve energy security it “boiled down to a shared vision across the whole continent”.

The other panellists, who included the following, backed Dr Jones’ assertion.

  • Dr Wolsey Barnard, deputy director general of Energy Programmes & Projects in South Africa’s Department of Energy
  • Kribs Govender, general manager of Low Carbon Electricity at Sasol New Energy
  • Sanjith Mungroo, head of Business Development at GDF SUEZ Southern Africa

The subject of the panel discussion, which was moderated by Deloitte’s Shamal Sivasanker, could not have been more pertinent as it took place against a backdrop of Eskom having had to implement national load shedding for the first time since 2008.

With Brian Dames, the outgoing head of Eskom, confirming load shedding could well continue into April.

All the panellists agreed that a fundamental part in addressing Africa’s widespread security of supply issue required a well-defined policy supported by a robust regulatory framework, as well as a clear plan of action.
Dr Wolsey Barnard
On the policy side, Dr Barnard (pictured right) emphasized that “energy security had to be a fundamental part of both national and regional policies”, adding that devising long-term energy development plans at a regional level was essential.

Dr Jones also made a plea for “a more holistic approach to policy making”, calling on policy-makers to think in the long-term.

Govender echoed this sentiment, saying that today’s politicians had to be brave as they would be unlikely to see the fruits of their labours, which would hopefully benefit future generations. He called for “clear leadership”.

Sivasanker queried whether there was sufficient coming together of policies to support a fully-integrated grid in Africa.

In response, Dr Jones expressed his concern that generally cross border trade of electricity was still discouraged despite it representing a significant opportunity in securing electricity supplies.

He added that the harmonization of the rules was important as it would help to empower people to invest in and build much-needed power stations and subsequently trade the electricity produced.

However, Govender warned that countries needed to ensure they achieved the right balance between building assets for export and ensuring their own communities, particularly in rural areas, had access to electricity.

Mungroo also emphasized that coal, which is the backbone of many African nations’ power supply system, in particular South Africa, would not ensure energy security in the future and that “low-carbon resources will come to play a bigger role in helping to achieve this”.

Sivasanker shifted the focus of the discussion to the demand side and specifically energy efficiency’s role in securing supply.

Dr Barnard responded by saying that “energy efficiency is an important part of addressing current system constraints, but that it was more than a quick-fix and should be seen as a long-term strategy”.

According to Govender, one of the problems is that an era of low tariffs in the region  has made people perceive electricity as cheap, encouraging wastefulness. He called for a change in behaviour in both the domestic and commercial sectors, arguing this could potentially be achieved through taxation.

Mungroo also reinforced the idea that although it was important that electricity remained affordable, it was equally important to have cost reflective tariffs – an important aspect in encouraging investment and thereby achieving greater energy security.

Dr Jones summed up the session by saying that building trust between African nations was essential to ensure energy security of supply and that achieving “mutual benefit for all” was an important part of that.

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