What Africa can learn from Germany’s energy transition

How Africa can learn from Germany’s successful ongoing transition to renewable energy was the theme of the 10th German-African Energy Forum, which took place recently in Hamburg, reports Femi Awoniyi.

Willi Meixner, chief executive of the Power and Gas Division of Siemens AG, has advised African countries to focus on creating an encouraging regulatory environment if they are to attract investment into their energy sector. The Siemens boss, who was speaking at a round-table discussion during the 10th German-African Energy Forum, also called on African policy-makers to bear in mind that power supply to industrial users must be competitive and that “no one size fits all” when adopting strategies to boost energy production.

Meixner, who has worked for more than 20 years in the power generation industry, opined that Africa could learn from Germany’s experience with its energy transition (Energiewende), but should apply any lessons learnt realistically to local conditions.

The engineer said while the development of renewable energy on the continent was laudable, Africa would still need to explore other conventional sources to solve its chronic energy deficits. For example, his formula for providing electricity for rural Africa is renewable with fossil fuel-generated back-up to ensure 24/7 uninterrupted supply.

Meixner said Siemens was moving from fossil-generated power to a future of mixed supply. Among the company’s innovations are hybrid power plants consisting of solar, wind and fossil generators in a decentralised supply system.

The global technology powerhouse is currently involved in many projects in Africa, including gas power plants in Egypt and Nigeria and Morocco’s vast Ouarzazate solar power plant. “Siemens works with local partners in Africa because it is important for the sustainable success of projects,” he said.

Among other speakers at the roundtable was Eric Yong, chief executive of GreenTec Capital, which develops solutions in response to local needs of consumers in Africa. Among the Germany-based company’s innovations is the Mobile Solar Kiosk, which has been rolled out in Rwanda in partnership with a local company. GreenTec supports entrepreneurs in Africa to apply technological innovations to local needs, Yong explained.

Dr Jeremy Gaines, Co-ordinator of the Nigerian-German Energy Partnership, said moving from large projects to small, decentralised projects was a lesson that Africa could learn from Germany. He added, however, that getting financing for small-scale projects in Africa was a major challenge.

Gaines revealed that the power supply crisis in Nigeria was also mainly due to the limited capacity of its transmission and distribution infrastructure. “If all the power plants in Nigeria were to operate at full capacity, the transmission system would break down as it would not be able to evacuate the energy produced,” he said.

Dorothé Jansen of the consulting firm CMS said a major challenge in promoting foreign investment in the African energy sector was convincing investors that their investments would pay off in the long term.

Today, only 40 per cent of Africans have reliable energy supply. To close the huge deficit, governments are investing in the improvement of electricity generation and supply across the continent.

The 10th German-African Energy Forum Hamburg, which took place on 25-26 April, provided a platform for players in the energy sector from Africa, Germany and the rest of the world for interaction and networking. The two-day conference-cum-exhibition featured discussions on current topics, projects and opportunities for renewable and conventional energy in Africa.

Among the African dignitaries at the Forum, organised by Afrika-Verein (German-African Business Association), were Motuma Mekasa, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy, Ethiopia; Mutaz Musa, Minister of Electricity and Water Resources, Sudan, who presented a paper on the “potential, opportunities and challenges” in his country’s energy sector; and Ms Kornelia Shilunga, Deputy Minister of Mines and Energy, Namibia, who spoke on the challenges of finding the perfect energy mix for Africa.

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