A UAE investment could help millions of Africans leapfrog to clean electrification

Africa is the least electrified continent, but it has a chance to become a hotbed of renewable energy

600 million Africans lack access to electricity. AP
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If the whole of Europe, North America or the Arab world were plunged into darkness, the urgent need to ensure access to electricity might be all anyone at global summits could talk about. But 590 million people – a larger population than any of those three regions – in sub-Saharan Africa today live this way, with too little attention given to their plight. While the rapid growth in energy production in other parts of the world threatens efforts to adhere to carbon emissions targets, too many people in parts of Africa could only dream of such excess.

The continent does, of course, have some shining success stories. Five years ago, Gabon reached 90 per cent electrification, with the country’s cities (where nine in 10 Gabonese live) more or less completely electrified. Ghana and South Africa, each in the high 80s, are not far behind. Optimists hope that now, in an age of greater innovation and cheaper renewable energy costs, sub-Saharan Africa may not only charge towards electrification, but actually leapfrog ahead to clean energy.

It's a golden opportunity. But seizing it requires both sound, reform-minded policy and major investment, including from partners overseas. A study published last month in Nature Communications, a journal, estimated the cost of electrifying all of sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 at around $200 billion.

The rapid growth in energy production in other parts of the world threatens efforts to adhere to carbon emissions targets

On Tuesday, four UAE entities – including Abu Dhabi clean energy firm Masdar, Dubai-based renewable energy company AMEA Power, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) and Etihad Credit Insurance – pledged $4.5bn collectively to help accelerate the development of clean energy projects in Africa. The two renewables companies will each make equity investments – $2bn from Masdar and $1bn from AMEA Power – in clean energy projects to deliver a total of 15 gigawatts of capacity by 2030. They have also pledged to mobilise a combined $12bn in project finance. ADFD, meanwhile, will provide $1bn in assistance to address basic infrastructure needs, while Etihad Credit Insurance will offer $500 million of credit insurance to lower projects’ risk and attract private capital.

The UAE entities will be joined in their initiative by Africa50, an investment platform established by African governments and the African Development Bank, the UAE said at the Africa Climate Summit. The summit, which took place on Tuesday, saw representatives from across Africa and the world convene in Nairobi to discuss the continent's environmental challenges. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who was in attendance, pointed out that Africans bore some of the worst consequences of climate change despite having produced negligible carbon emissions. "Developed countries," Mr Guterres said, "must present a clear and credible roadmap to double adaptation finance by 2025 as a first step toward devoting half of all climate finance to adaptation.”

The UAE's efforts are part of a larger programme, Etihad 7, announced by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and the Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change in January of last year. Etihad 7, MoFA says, aims to supply clean electricity to 100 million Africans by 2035 by securing funding for renewable energy projects on the continent. The end goal is what many African policymakers have hoped for – help for the continent to meet its booming energy demand without worsening the world’s carbon emissions problem.

Significantly, the investment programme could also help encourage evolution in the policy landscape. Dr Sultan Al Jaber, President-designate for the Cop28 global climate summit being hosted in the UAE in November, said the initiative will “prioritise investments in countries across Africa with clear transition strategies, enhanced regulatory frameworks and a master plan for developing grid infrastructure that integrates supply and demand”.

The African continent’s energy and electrification challenges will not be easily solved. But the UAE initiative is a sizeable step in the right direction, and the more such steps are taken, the farther inhabitants of the world’s least-electrified continent can leap ahead.

Published: September 07, 2023, 3:00 AM