LITTLETON – African nations made clear at the United Nations Climate Summit last week that the region will develop its fossil fuel resources to alleviate fuel shortages, help lift local populations out of poverty and stimulate vital economic growth.
Africa’s electricity consumption growth since 2017 has been second only to energy-intensive Asia, according to Enerdata, and is home to several countries expected to experience favorable demographic changes and strong economic growth this decade, including Egypt, which is hosting the latest climate talks. COP27. .
This combination of planned expansion of fossil fuel use and growing economic momentum will lead climate trackers to fear that the region is poised to accelerate pollution levels that could undermine climate change goals.
However, the extent of any actual emissions increase will depend greatly on the source of energy used to generate electricity in each country.
In 2021, Africa as a whole generated 39% of its electricity from gas, 29% from coal, 8% from other fossil fuels, 17% from hydro, and 4% from renewables, according to data from Ember.
However, the energy mix varies greatly by country depending on the locally available energy sources, the old energy production infrastructure, and the proximity to the two energy sources.
This wide variation in the energy mix is evident when comparing the electricity source profiles of Africa’s two largest electricity producers, South Africa and Egypt.
South Africa – Africa’s second largest economy after Nigeria – is primarily powered by locally mined coal, which generated nearly 90% of the country’s total electricity supply of 224.63 TWh (TWh) in 2021.
In contrast, Egypt uses natural gas for 77% of its electricity needs, and does not use coal to generate electricity at all. Egypt’s electricity supply totaled 174.88 TWh in 2021, 28.4% less than South Africa’s total.
The two countries’ electricity systems have starkly different emissions impacts as a result of the different primary fuels.
South Africa emits more than twice as much carbon dioxide and gas equivalents as Egypt, and was the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide from energy in 2021, according to BP’s latest global energy statistical review. Egypt ranked 28th.
With more than 50 countries in total, the trajectory of Africa’s energy mix is difficult to predict and will be determined by a large number of domestic and international factors including levels of government spending, private investment and foreign aid.
However, the energy systems of the continent’s five largest economies – Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco – can provide clues as to what to expect in different parts of the continent.
Across southern Africa, it may be difficult to dislodge coal’s footprint in the energy mix in the near term.
Outside South Africa, domestic economies including Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia are heavy coal users, and boast large coal mining sectors that are large employers and taxpayers.
However, given international support to help countries transition away from dirty coal to cleaner energy sources, many countries currently dependent on coal are expected to receive funding for efforts to switch to other fuels, which may serve to reduce coal’s market share in the future. Region. .
A potential candidate to replace coal in many parts of Africa is hydropower, which has expanded by 50% across Africa since 2010 and is the main source of electricity for Zimbabwe and Zambia as well as Mozambique and Namibia.
New projects are under development in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Angola that will expand energy supplies across many parts of eastern, central and southern Africa, according to the International Hydroelectric Union.
Across North Africa, natural gas is making rapid inroads into energy systems, primarily from plentiful domestic supplies in Algeria and Egypt.
In West Africa, Nigeria plays a pivotal role in increasing gas consumption after increasing production by nearly 50% since 2010 and signing agreements for exports via pipelines to other countries in the region.
One of the main potential customers for Nigerian gas is Morocco, which is the fifth largest economy in Africa which has grown by 20% since 2017.
Morocco currently relies on imported coal for nearly 60% of its electricity production, but recently signed a pipeline deal with Nigeria that potentially allows Morocco’s power producers to swap high-emitting coal for cleaner-burning natural gas.
If this pivot away from coal can be replicated elsewhere along the proposed pipeline route through Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone, then Africa’s use of fossil fuels may not necessarily equal the higher emissions climate advocates fear.
In fact, increased natural gas production and distribution—along with expansion of renewables—may allow some coal-dependent economies in Africa to reduce use of the world’s most polluting fuel, even as overall energy consumption increases.
(Reporting by Gavin Maguire)