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Virtual AUW & POWERGEN highlights: Africa’s Energy transition

Day two of the Virtual AUW webinar session focused on the energy transition in light of the financial havoc created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The webinarà‚ took place on 12 May as part of the live series of webinars this week forà‚ Virtual African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa.

Moderator: Claire Volkwyn, Editor, Smart Energy International


  • Ursula Wellman, Community, Skills and Enterprise Development Project Specialist | Atlantis Special Economic Zone, South Africa
  • Maloba G Tshehla, Head of Strategy and Growth | ED Platform, South Africa
  • Silvia Piana, Head of Regulatory Affairs for Africa Region in the Global Power Generation Division | ENEL
  • Abe Cambridge, Founder and CEO | The Sun Exchange, SA

Stimulus and recovery measures in response to the pandemic must foster economic development and job creation, promote social equity and welfare, and put the world on a climate-safe path.

By making theà‚ energy transitionà‚ an integral part of the wider recovery, governments can achieve a step-change in the pursuit of a healthy, inclusive, prosperous, just, and resilient future.

“There are some factors that are not affected by the pandemic on the African continent, and these include population growth, fast urbanisation, electricity demand growth and the abundance of renewable resources, Piana adding that “so the access to reliable and sustainable energy, which is crucial at all times, is becoming even more important for strategic infrastructure during a global crisis and in order to stimulate economic recovery after the virus.

Piana added: “In order to address long-term challenges but also longer-term structural shifts towards a low carbon economy. The renewAfrica Initiative shows that some of the key elements that are missing to unleash Africa’s renewable potential to attract private investors are adequate de-risking instruments and sound regulatory frameworks. RenewAfrica is a new initiative that is almost finalised.

“More than 25 signatories from across the supply chain are behind this initiative, including financial institutions, independent power producers, manufacturers, academia, consultants, think tanks and industry associations. This new renewAfrica instrument will also be backed by the European Union.”  

According to Cambridge: “We are really imagining almost like a new world economy based on clean energy rather than the petrodollar and even distribution the way the monetary system works. I think if anything, this COVID-19 and the post-COVID-19 world has really highlighted to us some of the weaknesses in the systems we have been relying on.

“I even refer to them as legacy systems, such as the oil-based economy. So, in this period, looking forward, we don’t know what the future holds so we can really now start to re-imagine what the new economic system will look like. And that is what The Sun Exchange has been working on since 2014, an international web of solar panel owners.

Growing the green economy in Africa

Cambridge noted that Africa is incredibly rich in solar energy, “more than any other resource. And it is over the whole continent, not just coastal areas or on hills. Therefore, when you deploy a solar panel into the continent it is actually the cheapest form of energy. Even compared to coal here in South Africa, solar power is now cheaper. Also in rural areas in mini-grid situations, solar is able to cut running costs while giving fantastic returns to owners of solar panels. IRRs in the region of 15-25% are achievable.”  

Listen to the full recorded session here.

Wellman said Atlantis Special Economic Zone seeks to create a sustainable hub for the green economy and to attract and retain export-focused green tech investors.

“We’ve taken an integrated approach to the work we have done in Atlantis to date, one that incorporates skills, enterprise and community development. You cannot necessarily have one without the other and these are key elements with which to grow the green economy.”

In conclusion, Tshehla noted that: “An economy is underwritten by people, people and their contributions. Given the crisis we are seeing now with this pandemic and the lockdowns, the post-COVID-19 future has to become, or at least not forget, to be people-centered. I think a lot of our efforts as companies, as individuals, as communities have been around ‘how do we lend a helping hand?’.

“If we take it to an economic discussion it is around ‘how do we rebuild this economy so that we never have to extend a helping hand so that everybody is empowered?’ So I think for this post-COVID-19 future, we must not forget the lessons of this crisis.” à‚ 

Pamela Largue
Pamela is a senior content creator and editor and has been a part of the Clarion content team for over seven years. She specializes in international power and energy-related content.