Africa told to use ICT model to leap-frog energy log jam

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If data is anything to go by, reports that some 750 million Africans rely on biomass for their daily energy needs clearly puts the energy sector on top of Africa’s development agenda.

This concern loomed large at an African Development Bank Group Annual Meetings seminar on “Energy: the Next Revolution,” held on Thursday, May 28 in Abidjan.

“Power is Africa’s number one challenge,” said Alex Rugamba, Director of the Bank Group’s Energy, Environment and Climate Change Department, while urging the seminar to come up with suggestions that can help Africa solve its acute energy problems.

One of such suggestions is to avoid the traditional slow energy generation and distribution model to technology-driven smart options capable of transforming Africa’s energy sector in the same way information and communications technology (ICT) has transformed the telephony sector in Africa.

This requires know-how, which Andrew Alli, CEO of African Finance Corporation of Nigeria, believes, is already on ground.

“The technology is already there. It’s a question of finance and economics,” he said, noting that companies providing electricity abound, especially in East Africa, but they lack the resources to scale up their businesses.

According to him, solar power is the way to go given the institutional network to bring these budding entrepreneurs together to scale up and hand over to the private sector.

Adama Toungara, Côte d’Ivoire’s Energy and Petroleum Minister who has implemented considerable reforms in the energy sector, fully supports the idea that the private sector is in a better position to fix these energy challenges.

Toungara said the Ivorian Government had to deal with issues related to insufficient capital, lack of investment, the absence of a privatization plan and an inefficient regulatory framework to pull the service from the precipice.

“The Government is not a good manager of the power sector,” he emphasized.

Currently, he said, the Electricity Company of Côte d’Ivoire is able to provide 80% access and 45% coverage. It has also banned electricity subsidies, but allows communities with up to 500 inhabitants to subscribe to electricity at a reduced rate of 1,000 CFA francs (US $2).

Jean-Louis Borloo, Founder of “Energies pour l’Afrique” Foundation, believes that Africa’s energy sector requires a “Marshall Plan”. As a result, Borloo is working with the AfDB to raise funding to finance the sector.

He believes that given Africa’s population bulge, there is a compelling need to fix the continent’s energy sector.