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Africa 'needs to up baseload before turning to transition'

Continent must be allowed to deepen penetration of fossil fuels before relying more on renewables, ministers say

Africa is not yet ready to fully embrace energy transition as countries on the resource-rich continent must first be allowed to increase their electricity baseload before renewables can have any large-scale impact.

Gas can, however, play a critical role in both driving up this baseload and cutting carbon emissions, but access to capital is crucial to help build the infrastructure necessary for regional power distribution, delegates were told at the World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

“We in Africa do not yet have the baseload,” Timipre Sylva, Nigeria’s newly-installed Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, said on an Africa-focused panel on critical enablers for the continent’s energy transition.

“The world must allow Africa to develop the baseload before we begin to join seriously the discussion about renewables,” Sylva added.

Former director-general of the Energy Commission of Nigeria and current special advisor to President Muhammadu Buhari, Abubakar Sani Sambo, agreed, pointing to current levels of electricity access in Africa of around 50% as against an average of 90% across the rest of the globe.

“Africa needs to come up to about 75% or 80% before you start to talk about a transition in Africa,” Sambo said.

The continent of Africa still has an estimated 650 million people without stable access to electricity.

“Of course, we cannot discount the room for renewables for small communities that do not have access to the grid,” Sylva said, although discounting the impact renewables can currently make on grid systems with the current low baseload in African countries.

Gas – either pipeline gas or liquefied natural gas – is seen as a significant potential contributor to increasing that baseload, with Sylva saying: “One way to we think we can create that baseload is gas… We are trying to build a pipeline to go across the continent – we are calling it the AKK pipeline.”

The Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) pipeline is being developed by state player Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and is the first phase of the Trans-Nigeria Gas Pipeline project. The hope is for Nigeria to be able to utilise its large gas resources to feed into the grids of regional countries.

Sitting alongside Sylva, Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Mines, Industry Energy Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima, pressed the case for the continued exploitation of hydrocarbons in Africa.

“Oil and gas are good for Africa… The solution for Africa is oil and gas… We have to be responsible with our resources - and use them,” he said

Mbaga said the “entire island of Bioko” – which houses the EG LNG plant – runs on gas, while the “majority” of its discoveries are gas fields. However, Equatorial Guinea – and the Africa at large – needs access to finance to build the necessary infrastructure projects.

“Since day one of oil and gas, we have thought about doing something with the gas,” he said, but adding that not a single African country can currently take any of its LNG cargoes, due to a lack of infrastructure.

“We need the access to capital to build the infrastructure for African countries. We can’t continue exporting the gas out of the continent,” he said.

“If you do not give us funds to utilise our oil and gas, we won’t have electricity… That resource can transform the continent.”

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