The UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) on Friday stressed that the African continent will need greater energy sources to build back better in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The statement was made by Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the UNECA, speaking during a webinar on scaling up renewable energy investments in Africa amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as she emphasized that energy production activities to power Africa’s rebuilding efforts “should focus on three key aspects — infrastructure, supply and cost of energy.”
The ECA chief said following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, trade, education and health had moved to information and communication technology platforms, consuming about 40 percent of the continent’s energy.
“Africa’s power utilities need to up their game if they are to play a crucial role in helping the continent build back better after COVID-19,” Songwe said.
“For us to be able to have on the continent a viable ICT sector that will allow our economies to build back better, we are going to need a lot of energy,” said Songwe, adding that private investments will play a crucial role, especially with the launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
The ECA Executive Secretary said issues related to the continent’s energy is not transition but energy substitution.
“We do not have the transition problem in the kind of scale that Europe has. The conversation for Africa is around substituting expensive bad fossil fuels into something that is cleaner and most certainly cheaper. We have to replace fuel-based energies with green and sustainable ones,” Songwe said.
She stressed that partnerships and cooperation were needed in supporting African countries to deliver on their energy and development agenda.
“We need to begin to honestly and seriously look at the financing structures of Africa’s infrastructure. We are financing infrastructure at shorter time frames than it takes to build that infrastructure resulting in debt sustainability issues,” said Songwe to private sector representatives attending the webinar.
Only two countries in Africa, Uganda and Seychelles, have viable electricity sectors, said Songwe, a situation she said needs to be addressed with only 19 nations operating at expenditure while the rest are operating at excessive losses.
“We must ensure that on the continent tariffs are cost reflective,” she said, adding that cost reflective tariffs are part of the problem affecting the continent’s power sector.
Songwe said the continent needs to collectively work together to ensure regional power pools are viable.
“Not every African country can produce energy,” she said, adding that with the game-changing AfCFTA, the private sector can invest in the regional power pools to the continent’s benefit. Songwe said local currency energy investments would go a long way in boosting access to affordable energy on the continent.