GEARING UP FOR THE FUTURE
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the enduring importance of addressing sub-Saharan Africa's energy challenges: increasing energy access, ensuring energy security and affordability, and managing the energy transition. Vaccination programmes critically depend on reliably-powered cold chains, a massive challenge considering the continent's electrification backlogs. Prospects for economic recovery are hampered by electricity supply constraints, while new technologies are disrupting traditional utility business models and posing new regulatory challenges.
This disruptive moment nevertheless offers an important opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa. Renewable energy investments continued to grow, in both capacity and investment volumes, at the same time that most commodity markets – most notably fossil fuels – were crashing. We are also seeing a steady and accelerating exit of capital from fossil-fuel based investments, not only due to concerns about climate change but also because of the increasingly attractive economics of renewables. Solar PV and wind technologies in particular are now least-cost options for new power capacity in most markets and can be built quickly and incrementally – but also require flexible balancing capacity in the form of for example storage, gas or hydropower.
Ensuring that sub-Saharan Africa reaps the benefits of this moment requires a reckoning with the continued importance of sector fundamentals: improving the financial viability and technical performance of power utilities; strengthening the governance of the sector through for example capable and independent regulatory authorities and competitive procurement programmes; and implementing market and regulatory reforms to accelerate investment flows.
UCT's Power Futures Lab remains committed to creating the knowledge and capabilities needed to accelerate power investment, improve sector performance and governance, and extend equitable access in sub-Saharan Africa through our research, training and advocacy work. In this newsletter, we provide details on new research outputs, introduce you to a new cohort of PhD students, and share how we are supporting global and local initiatives.
Prof. Anton Eberhard