How can we start looking at the energy transition as an opportunity rather than a burden – and how can Africa and Europe work together to achieve it?
If we look at the Energy situation in Africa, restricted energy access is still a barrier that needs to be considered: there are limitations in power generation capacity and distribution infrastructure, making it difficult for African countries to grow economically. We see that renewable energy has the potential to address at least in part that issue and energy investments in Africa have already started to shift to renewable energy-based projects, which is accompanied by a drop in prices. If Europe instead, energy access is a given – and our biggest issue is rather making the shift between a centralized, fossil fuel centric energy system, to a more decentralized and less pollutant one. While the narratives between the two continents sound at a first glance quite different, there are some points of overlap:
- We have the same goal, which is to decarbonise our economies. The two continents must walk in the same direction, even if the starting point is different.
- The energy transition is about people. Both Europeans and Africans are dependent on energy access to ensure a minimum level of quality in their lives, plus industry, health, education and the overall economy depends on it. People must inform themselves on the different energy solutions and technologies in order to make educated demands on their preferred options. The way the energy system is structured locally must, at least partially, be a choice of the people using it, in a truly fair and democratic way.
- Amongst the people affected by these changes, there is youth. While different in backgrounds, cultures, understandings and habits, youth in Africa and Europe are all united by our internet-based communication tools, which can make our voice be even stronger.
In this event which took place online on the 25th of May 2022, four expert speakers with different backgrounds from Europe and Africa shared their views on key topics of the energy transition, in the form of four questions.
What would you say are the top 3 priorities when it comes to the energy transition in European/African countries?
“In Africa, energy access is the first thing we need to do to bridge the gap”, reinforced Tony, founder and CEO of Renewables in Africa (RiA). The second priority should be to decarbonise the existing energy projects and thirdly empower people with the right skills and know-how, to allow for stronger local supply chains, and with that, reinforce employment.
Duccio, the co-founder of Enco – Energia Collettiva, agreed with these statements. Duccio has experience both in the African and European energy sectors and he spoke on priorities that can apply to both continents. In his opinion, education is the first gap, “we need to teach people to be protagonists of the energy transition”. The private sector also has an important role to play in accelerating the deployment of renewable energy, and it must be motivated through strict regulations. Also important to invest in parallel in a grid that can support a decentralized system based on renewables, which is currently a big barrier in both Europe and Africa.
Lea, speaking from a technical controller background, highlighted an important point, that renewables are not always available, making it essential to diversify the energy sources, to ensure reliability to energy customers. Building on what Duccio mentioned on the role of consumers, she believes decentralizing the energy system will naturally empower electricity consumers and motivate them to learn about energy. She also highlighted personal and intergenerational transformation as a priority, particularly in Europe, as we need to “change our consumption habits as part of the solution”, starting with younger consumers which are better positioned to activate older consumers to change.
Gabriel, an internet leader and activist with a computer science background, brought up a new point, focusing on the African context – which is the importance of ensuring meaningful access to energy, with a particular focus on the rural share of the population. He also brought up the role of governments, and how young people should motivate their local decision-makers to invest in innovation. “It’s time to get addicted to clean technology and clean policy”, he mentioned, and with that, we can lay the foundation for the next generation.
“Nothing will happen until we address the money question.”, mentioned Tony. Governmental support is needed to put the first initial capital, to minimise the risk, but the private sector is needed for the main share. International development funds have already helped, and Duccio highlighted an example of mixed capital from different sources that ended in a fruitful project investment. The importance of having a willing African private sector was mentioned and reinforced by all panellists. Lea spoke on the European perspective, through which the approach is often to take a ´responsibility-taking’ standpoint and try to ship money and expertise. “Unilateral flows of money are not good enough, we need partnerships” she mentioned. She also reinforced the importance of the Private sector capital but warning that it needs to be accompanied by proper regulation, to ensure equitable access to energy.
Gabriel proposed the ‘polluter pays’ principle as an option: considering that most of the emissions come from the big corporations, how can we hold these organizations accountable?
Also important to understand that if we invest in the African young population, with local and meaningful financing options that are tied to sustainability criteria, we will be investing in the next generation of actors that will be able to drive the energy transition.
How does the Ukraine-Russian conflict, and with it the urge to reduce dependency on Russian gas, affect the energy transition in Europe and Africa?
The panellists highlighted that the impact of the conflict needs to be understood both on the short term and long term. Following the war break, Europe had to think about immediate solutions, and will for an unforeseeable future have to deal with the increase of inflation. Shifting to renewables has a cost, however, money right now is being mobilized for basic supplies to the war zone, reminded Duccio. This will may lead to a slow down on investments for the energy transition, but ‘on the long term it has opened the horizon for renewables, because it made us realize that we need to act fast’, mentioned Tony.
While the war is happening in Europe, Africa is very much under the spotlight now, as a resource-reach neighbour, who can help Europe break out of the Russian gas dependency. So, in Africa we can expect to see a revived interest in cross border projects, as there is a clear business opportunity.
Looking at another important angle of the energy transition, the supply of critical raw materials, Duccio highlighted that Europe and other big economies around the world were relying on Russian exports for elements needed for the transition, and this conflict may shift the supply chain from Russia to Africa. While this will be an opportunity, it needs to be regulated to ensure that safe and sustainable mining conditions are met in Africa.
Speaking from her experience in Wien Energie GmbH, a main energy provider in Austria, Lea shared that the breaking of this war was a massive shock but almost immediately after, a clear opportunity. There has been a shift in mentalities: people started considering becoming more energy independent; stakeholders and decision makers have become more willing to diversify and invest in renewables and landowners are more willing to provide space or land for renewable energy installations.
Gabriel stated that “it should not take a war for us to realize how dependent we are on each other”. He reinforced the importance of strong leadership right now, and that young people have a role in this, at least by being more vocal in terms of demanding change, and by making the right choices on who has the right mindset to be a leader in these difficult moments.
What role do we, as young people, play in the energy transition? What do we need to understand to help accelerate a sustainable energy transition?
In their closing statements, the panellists reinforced the idea of self-education, exchange of knowledge and ideas, and being bold. Being bold, for example at work, even at times when we don’t feel like we have the same experience nor expertise of our older colleagues. “It seems impossible until its done”, quoted Gabriel. We need to be vocal and challenge our leaders to accelerate change. We are in dept to the next generation – we want to be the generation that can say ‘I actually contributed to the positive change’.
The YES-Europe Policy team and European-African Youth Network team would like to thank again the panellists for their great interventions and for an actively engaged audience, which made this event a success.
What’s next: This is but a first step on a long-term collaboration between these two organizations, with the goal of enabling exchange of ideas between young Africans and Europeans on energy transition challenges and opportunities, to bridge gaps of knowledge and misconceptions. We want to build this project with and for you! Help us by sharing your views and needs in this survey:
About the speakers:
Duccio Baldi is an energy engineer focused on the energy-transition. He combines a technical background in energy systems with experience in other fields, such as energy policies and socio-economic impacts. In his last years as a consultant, he worked in Kenya for the German government (GIZ), on the integration of renewable energy into the Kenyan energy mix. He also conducted research on the electrification of refugee camps via fully renewable energy mini-grids. Currently, he is based in his home country, Italy, where he uses his knowledge to help the national energy transition, which motivated him to co-found Enco – Energia Collettiva.
Gabriel Karsan identifies as a Digital Dreamer, internet leader and activist. With a background and bachelor’s degree in computer science and over 5 years NGO/Civil Society experiences, he uses his skill sets in breaking complexities in the technology world through championing digital Literacies and Emerging Technologies. He also is a 2018 yelp-fellow of the LéO Africa Institute and seat as a board member of the Institute.
Lea Sixtl is a technical controller at a combined heat and power plant at Wien Energie GmbH and has a degree in engineering, having made her Masters thesis on carbon capture and utilization.
Tony Tiyou is the Founder and CEO of Renewables in Africa (RiA), a Clean Energy engineering company and media platform whose mission is to Bring (Back) Power to Africa. Tony previously worked for a decade as Development Engineer, Project Manager, Lead Consultant and Business Development Manager in several companies in the Automotive and Renewables Industries.
About the organizers:
YES-Europe (Young leaders for Energy and Sustainability)
YES-Europe’s vision of the future is a world where energy is more sustainable, accessible, and secure. Our role to make it happen is to build a stronger community of future energy leaders across disciplines and countries through online and in-person opportunities. We do it because we are certain that the only way to do it is together.
YES-Europe grew out of an initiative at EPFL (Switzerland) that brought together 50 students from 9 European countries in May 2016 for the first YES-Europe Annual Conference to find ways to make a difference. Since then, a strategy team has been working to push further the development of the organization in more than 10 countries organizing local and international events.
The Europe-Africa Youth network is an initiative of young people from different European and African countries to organize exchanges. We aim to better get to know each other and to go beyond stereotypes and prejudices about different countries and societies which are often based on what we see in the media. We organize discussions about several topics that are important for our societies and come up with a solution project addressing these problems.
We also offer volunteering opportunities for young people to join our initiative, to serve and learn in order to gain professional experience and fight youth unemployment and to develop a community service culture in the youth.