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Energy Security in Africa: Opportunities from the Global Climate Debate
Ogunlade Davidson, Director
Energy & Development Research Centre (EDRC)
University of Cape Town


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Ensuring the provision of adequate, affordable, efficient, and reliable high quality energy services with minimum adverse impacts on the environment for a sustained period is not only pivotal for development, but crucial for African countries in which most are struggling to meet present energy demands. Further, this continent needs such energy services to be in the position to improve its overall net productivity and become a major player in global technological and economic progress. Unfortunately, despite the abundant un-exploited renewable and non-renewable energy resources in the continent, this task remains unfulfilled for the countries of the continent. Currently, the continent is the least consumer of high quality energy globally on a per capita basis. Reversing this situation which should dominate the minds of energy decision-makers and professionals requires major changes in energy sector of African countries. Such changes may include increased local and foreign energy investments, more access to energy supply and use technologies, improved technological and economic connectivity between African countries, and adequate energy human and institutional capacities. See table 1 for the general characteristics of Africa with respect to other world regions.

Achieving these changes require overcoming some major economic, demographic and political challenges. However, there are signs that Africa is presently going through an economic transition with economic growth rates surpassing population growth rate. Since1996, the growth rate has shown an upward trend, 4.8% in 1996, 5% in 1997 and 4.9 % in 1998. There also signs of slowing population growth rates, 2.7% in the last few years with expected lower rates in the future. Growing urbanisation with rates doubling national growth rates is a cause for concern due to limited social services provision in urban areas. Despite current political conflicts, the number of countries with democratic and participatory governments are on the increase. The positive features of the continent can provide the right environment for attracting both domestic and foreign investments in the energy sector.

Current debate arising out of the possible threat of climatic instability provides Africa with an opportunity for fostering the development of its energy sector despite Africa is estimated to be the most vulnerable to the likely impacts from climate change. This vulnerability which is due to the state of development in the continent which can be greatly reduced by making available improved energy services to the vast population because it will improve the quality of their lives substantially.

Hence, this short paper will concentrate on commenting on the energy situation of the continent, and then identifying the opportunities of the climate change debate to improve the overall situation in the energy sector.


The energy situation in Africa can best be described as a continent with abundant, diverse and un-exploited renewable and non-renewable energy resources that are yet to be extracted and processed for improving the livelihood of the vast majority of the population. Though lack of adequate capital, infrastructure, human and institutional resources are blamed for this deficiency, but major policy shifts are urgently needed in the energy sector to exploit the opportunities such as the climate change debate.

In this section, the energy resources of the continent are presented before a discussion on how energy is produced and used in the continent.

Energy Sources of Africa

As mentioned previously, Africa is endowed with vast quantities of both fossil and renewable energy resources. Africa’s share at the end of 1999 of coal, oil and gas of global reserves were 6.2%, 7.7% and 7.2% respectively, and if they are exploited at current rates, these resources will last for 268, 98.3 and 28.2 years. Further, it is the only continent in the world with new finds of substantial oil and gas. Hence, exploiting these resources for the benefit of many is crucial to its future development.

However, these resources are not evenly distributed in the continent. Oil and gas are concentrated in Northern and Western Africa and even that they are mainly in relatively few countries, Algeria, Libya and Nigeria. Other countries with significant oil and gas reserves out of these regions are Angola, Egypt, Gabon and Congo. However, in recent times more countries with smaller but significant oil and gas reserves have emerged. These include Cameroon, Sudan, and Tunisia. Countries such as Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania have significant gas but no oil reserves. As shown in table 2, Coal reserves are dominant in the Southern Africa region with over 95% of the total of which over 90% of this total is in South Africa alone. This poor distribution of fossil resources makes over 70% of countries in the continent have to import these energy resources. This feature coupled with poor fossil fuel infrastructure and weak integrated energy networks has contributed to the relatively low exploitation of these vast fossil reserves in the continent.

It is important to note that new oil and gas deposits are found in the continent at significant scale, a feature that accounts for the growing reserves in the continent as shown in table 3. In the past 20 years oil reserves has grown by over 25%, while gas reserves has even grown faster by over 100% for the same period. There are geothermal deposits in Eastern Africa along the Rift valley and is concentrated in two countries Kenya and Ethiopia. Hence, Africa is in a unique position of exploiting energy fossil reserves that has well developed technologies and associated services.

Currently, Africa has over 10% of the world hydro resources and significant renewable energy resources. Africa being mainly within the tropics, most countries in the continent enjoy long hours of sunshine with significant radiation that can be exploited. Agriculture accounts on the average a third of the continent’s GDP, which means the generation of significant quantity of agricultural wastes for the production of both high quality solid and liquid energy is possible. Wind resources are available in selected sites, mostly along the coastlines in the Northern, Western and Southern Africa.

Africa therefore is not short of energy resources, which can give the continent the energy security it requires. The challenge is to develop strategy of accessing the well-known technologies through overcoming the major barriers that exist.

Energy Production and Use

The production and use of both high and low energy in the continent has`been growing in recent times but because of the equally growing population, this growth has not had the full impact on the economy because of increasing population and other difficulties. The production of commercial energy in Africa doubled between 1970 to l997, though its share of world production remained at about 7%. One of the most prominent feature has been the faster growth in the production of natural gas, faster than that that of oil. Also, there has been shift in relative shares of the energy production of fossil fuels. In 1970, oil accounts for 86%, while coal accounts for only 11%. By 1997, oil has dropped to 63%, while the share of coal increased to 19% and the production of natural gas, which was insignificant in 1970, has increased its share to 15%.

However, the unevenness in the occurrence of fossil reserves is reflective of the pattern of pattern of energy production in the continent. Southern Africa accounts for 99% of coal production and South Africa being responsible for almost all of it, while natural gas production is concentrated in Northern Africa by mostly few countries, Egypt and Algeria. Crude oil production involves a slightly wider spread in North, West, Central and Southern Africa. Among the countries involved are Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and Angola.

Due to infrastuctural and economic problems of most countries in the continent, Africa has remain a net exporter of its fossil fuels for some time now, with over 50% of all commercial energy produced exported out of the continent. Further, the poor integration networks in the continent has made many countries import these fuels using their meagre foreign exchange while the others export them out of the continent. Table 4 shows energy exports from the different regions of the continent. Every region is a net exporter of commercial energy except the eastern region, while the northern region is by far the largest exporter. Most of the exports go to Europe and USA. Northern Africa export oil and gas, while West Africa is mostly oil and Southern Africa is coal.

Consumption of commercial fuels by African countries has been growing averagely by 2.7% annually between 1980 to 1997, though it has grown faster between 1900 to 1997 of 3.1%. However, higher growth rates are required for the continent to compete with other world’s regions, though the remarkable aspect has been that consumption rate now exceeds population growth which has been around 2.7% per annum and is predicted to be around 2% in the next few years. Also, there has been a slight increase of Africa’s share of commercial energy consumption globally, from 2% in 1970 to 3% in 1997. This accounts for 3.8% of global coal consumption, 3.4% of oil and 2.4% of natural gas. These shares are very low in comparison to other continents because we have 14% of the world’s population, though they have increased from 1970, 2.7%, 1.7% and o.1% for coal oil and gas respectively.

The production and consumption of commercial energy is far from even. Northern Africa produces almost half of the oil and gas, while around 80% of these resources are consumed in the North and Southern Africa (see table 5). In 1997, South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria and Libya accounted for 78% of all commercial energy consumed in the continent and these same countries accounted for most of the commercial energy produced as well. With the exception of these countries mentioned above, most countries are net importers of commercial energy. Despite the total of these countries is relatively small, but it is difficult for them because it involves using their meagre foreign exchange receipts for oil payments.

Electricity generating capacity in Africa with respect to the population is very low, as of 1997; the capacity was only 94 GW accounting of only 3% of the global total far below the global population share of 14%. Out of this total, 76% is from thermal. As shown in Table 6, the generating capacity vary among the different regions, 88% from thermal resources in Northern Africa and 81% in Southern Africa, while hydro is significant in East and West Africa. Also, coal dominates southern Africa while oil and gas is predominant in North Africa. Due to the proliferation of hydro capacity within the continent, 22% of total electricity production is from hydro with East and Central Africa being dominant. It accounts for over 80% in certain countries such as Cameroon, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ghana. Nuclear accounts for only 2% and is located in only one country, South Africa. Geothermal accounts for 0.1% and is in only Ethiopia and Kenya. Due to the low electricity generation in comparison to the total population, access to electricity still remains very low.

As a result of the low use of commercial energy, the use of traditional energy sources in the form of biomass, mainly firewood and charcoal is very high in comparison with other regions of the world. It is estimated that this constitutes over 60% of total primary energy use. The use of this low quality energy is far from uniform in the continent, very small fraction are used in the North as opposed to large quantities in West, Central and East Africa. High biomass use raises serious problems because of its very low conversion rate of 15% or less, high wastage, and poor quality method of production. Also, the health and other environmental problems associated with its use are significant.

The use of new renewable energy is still limited to a very small fraction, less that 2% of the total consumption. However, there are signs of growth in certain technologies. Wind pumps have been successful in Southern Africa and Solar systems in East and Southern Africa. The most successful have been the solar home systems as shown in Fig.1. However, with recent developments in this area, renewable energy can play significant roles in niche markets especially as more of these technologies become more matured and their market potential are realised.


Transforming Africa from its present situation in which most countries are struggling to satisfy their survival needs to a state in which majority of the countries are achieving their sustainable development goals should be the main interest of decision-makers and academics in the continent. It should be noted in satisfying sustainable development needs, social welfare and environmental protection are just as important as economic growth. The energy requirements to satisfy this task are huge and could be achieved by developing its vast renewable and non-renewable energy resources. However, there are options available to the continent because of the large pool of technologies in the public domain that could be exploited. However, access still remains a thorny problem. These options include the following:

  • Energy Efficiency (supply and use technologies)

  • Development of Renewable energy technologies

  • Energy Institution development

  • Energy Pricing strategies

  • Regional Energy Trade

  • Energy Trade development

  • Energy Research, Development and Demonstration

Energy Efficiency Technologies

Utilisation of efficient production and use technologies can be an important strategy in the increase of the supply and use of high quality energy in the continent. Due to the current trend of technological progress in world markets, a significant number of improved energy efficient technologies are available. As mentioned previously, an energy strategy for development of the huge fossil fuel resources in the continent is required. The current projects such as the West African gas pipeline that aims at supplying four countries with high quality energy is an example of developing the fossil sources of the continent. There are now improved technologies with energy and technical gains that the continent can access. This also present opportunities for African countries to access to use exciting power generating options such bas combined power systems such as combined gas turbines and combined heat and power systems.

Improving the efficiency of existing plants offer significant opportunities for African countries. Most power plants are operating at efficiency far lower that either prescribed standards or in comparison to other regions. This deficiency varies between 5-10%. Using well-known technological practices, 5-10% more power can be available to satisfy the huge amount of suppressed energy demand in the continent.

Promoting demand-side management (DSM) in the energy sector provides new opportunities for African countries. This is useful because it also promotes economic efficiency as well because energy costs are reduced for the same output, hence for the same energy cost; productivity and competitiveness will improve. Some studies have shown that use of technically proven cost-effective energy efficiency measures can result in 10-30% of energy consumption. As an example, it is estimated that at least 15% can be achieved through housekeeping measures in Ghana, and 40% of electricity consumption for air conditioning could be saved with more efficient equipment and practices.

Development of Renewable Technologies

As discussed above, Africa has significant renewable energy sources that can be harnessed for satisfying certain niches in the energy sector. The most pervasive are min-hydro sources, which have associated matured technologies, and solar energy that also have Associated matured technologies. Wind energy is only available in few countries. However, due to the economic situation for most African countries only matured technologies will be useful at this point. Biomass energy is yet to be exploited significantly as a high quality energy source in the continent with the exception of agro-based industry that uses agricultural residue for steam and electricity production and ethanol production for transport fuel in a few countries.

However, Due to recent technological progress and market success of limited renewable technologies, certain off-grid systems are becoming cost-effective and their use in

African countries is increasing. Solar PV systems are among these technologies that are been used for households and a small number of commercial purposes. It is estimated that about 100,000 small-scale systems have been installed in Kenya, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Also, the market for such systems are estimated to be up to 1500 MWp, over 10 ten times current level.

The potential for other systems such as small-scale gasifiers using biomass residues, increased exploitation of wind energy is great. The use of ethanol as the price of petrol keep increasing is also important because of the widespread availability of sugar industries in continent. In addition the technologies associated with sugar is improving. There are opportunities of using other renewable systems such as biogas for specific situations.

Reduction of Energy Subsidies

The use of more rational energy pricing in African countries can assist to stimulate use and ensure equity growth in the continent. Wider use of cross subsidy that aim reducing subsidy to the rich and assist the poor will lead to improvement in economic efficiency and environmental quality in the energy sector. This will also help to improve the quality of government expenditure. Rational energy pricing will encourage energy services be adequately paid for by those who can afford pay for them and the poor being assisted to achieve a decent livelihood. Studies have shown that removal of subsidies can result in reduction of primary energy consumption by certain groups that can increase supply to dis-advantaged groups.

However, subsidies are provided for different reasons depending on the macro-economic environment of the country. Reasons may include, encouraging consumption on an equitable basis, protection of local employment and protection of local industry. They should support energy security as well as social reasons. There is need to search for initiatives in energy policy that will satisfy both social policy and energy security. .

Regional Energy Trade

As a result of the present energy production and use patterns in the continent, there are major deficiencies, which can be either substantially reduced or eliminated by strengthening regional cooperation in the energy sector. Such strengthening can include promotion of energy trade, harmonising energy standards, and establishing common energy framework, improved information exchange through sharing and better use of human capital.

Though energy trade exist in a number of countries especially in electricity from hydro resources but there are potential for more of such practices. If suitable inter-connection facilities are established more of such trade will be made. Proposals have been made to have such systems in Southern and East Africa, but are yet to be undertaken. The current work on the South African Power Pool is a possible project that can minimise not only power losses but also environmental impacts and maximise economic benefits. However, for such level of cooperation, coordinating centres will be required that is efficient and suitably manned. Also, aspects such as legal and fiscal frameworks need to harmonised.

The energy standards in many countries, which are due to their colonial past, need to be upgraded and improved to ensure harmonisation and compatibility. This will assist to improve the design quality of equipment and operating conditions. Also, there will be need to ensure that suitable mechanisms are put in place to ensure compliance.

Strengthening of information among countries is very important for future developmeny6t in the energy sector. Present development in information technology should be fully exploited for this purpose.

Energy Research, Development and Demonstration

Energy research has been given a low priority in the continent mainly due to the economic situation in most countries. In addition, the agenda of energy research needs a shift towards fossil fuel technologies. Due to the fact that most of energy research is externally funded; the agenda is not always in line with national priorities. Substantial investments are required for energy research that will be geared towards scientific tracking, testing and technology adaptation.

Apart from research, which can be maximised also by establishing of cooperative networks, the need for extensive testing through field demonstration is important. Most of the equipment used in the continent especially for renewable energy technologies were not adequately tested. This is because of the lack of suitable testing facilities and adequate policies.


The Climate Change Problem

The threat of "Climate change" is a result of the accumulation of certain greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, mainly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that trap heat in the lower atmosphere and lead to "global warming". This will change the current climate system, which will result in profound impacts on the ecosystem, and agricultural systems.

As a result of this threat, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 and later ratified in 1994 when it came into force. The ultimate objective of UNFCCC is to stabilise global concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous anthrpogenic interference with the climate system. This should be done on the principles of intra and inter-generational equity, differentiated responsibilities, precautionary, cost-effectiveness, and special needs of developing countries. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 to provide an assessment of the state of knowledge on climate change science and its implications on other aspects of society. The Second Assessment Report (SAR) of IPCC in 1966 concluded in its findings that there is a discernable human influence on the climate, though detailed predictions still remain uncertain. It should be noted that the objective of the UNFCCC was to reduce the emission of GHGs while promoting sustainable development in developing countries. However, reduction of GHG involves many economic activities especially those relating with energy production and use since this sector accounts for over 75% of carbon dioxide emissions which is by far the most important GHG. Hence, satisfying the obligations of the UNFCCC raises both economic and political issues, since actions from governments and other agents of countries are required. Another aspect was that this Convention calls for a new type of cooperation between states especially between developed and developing countries.

In December 1997, at the third Conference of Parties (COP3) adopted the Kyoto Protocol (KP) to the Convention in Kyoto, Japan. KP is an attempt to have legally binding obligations on Annex 1 parties (mostly developed countries) to reduce their GHG emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2008-2012, known as the first commencement period. Each party has individual targets. The Protocol also included three gases to form a basket of six GHGs and it calls for demonstrable progress by 2005.

The Protocol establishes three mechanisms referred to as Emission Trading (ET), Joint Implementation (JI) and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). While the first two are transactions between Annex 1 Parties, CDM is a transaction between Annex 1 Party and non-Annex 1 Party (mostly developing countries). In the case of JI, it is expected to be a continuation of Activities to be Implemented Jointly (AIJ) that was agreed to be a pilot phase of JI and should last up to the year 2000. Therefore the only instruments that concern African countries are AIJ and CDM.

African countries hardly involve in the AIJ projects since it started in 1995, though in the last few years, some AIJ projects have being developed while some others are in operation. Based on present aspect in the debate the CDM when started will be of more relevance to African countries. Hence, a few comments are made on the CDM.

The main purpose of the CDM is to assist Annex 1 Parties to satisfy their obligations of the KP while promoting sustainable development in non-Annex 1Parties. Also, projects under this mechanism should contribute to stabilising GHG concentration. However, several aspects of the CDM are yet to be decided upon such as the governance through a Executive Board. Among the components that will shape the CDM is that the following: GHG reductions should be real, measurable, verifiable and additional, the CDM projects should be compatible with national development objectives and assigned a baseline of the host country. These projects would raise other key issues such as relationship to other financial mechanisms, evaluation of projects and development of baselines.


As the CC debate has progressed, certain opportunities exist for African countries to use in achieving energy security. The main opportunities can be grouped as follows:

Technology Transfer
Capacity Building

Transfer of Technology

The UNFCCC provided for the transfer of financial and technological resources to non-Annex 1 Parties by Annex 1 Parties in its Article 4.5. The IPCC in its technology transfer report of mitigation and adaptation technologies outlined several measures that could be employed by developing countries such as those of Africa to access climate-friendly Environmentally –Sound Technologies. Among these are the following:

  • Settings up clear well-enforced regulations for taxes, codes, and standards and reflect true costing as best as possinble.

  • Setting up simplified transparent procedures for project approval.

  • Create awareness about climate friendly technologies

  • Technology needs and needs assessment

  • Encourage demonstration programmes

  • Develop communication and information infrastructure

  • Develop National Systems of Innovation (NSI) This system integrate the elements of capacity building, access to information and creation of an enabling environment for successful technology transfer.

Capacity Building

Capacity building through the UNFCCC provisions includes the building of human and organisational capacities. To access the climate friendly technologies, a wide range of technical, business, management and regulatory skills are required at local level. These skills can be acquired by looking at all these skills, both hardware and software skills. Also, improving competence in associated services such as organisational know-how and regulatory management is essential.

Building organisational and institutional capacities are also important. Activities for building such capacities include the following:

  • Development and expansion of business firms

  • Encourage industry and professional associations

  • Develop stakeholder forums

  • Develop national information systems and improve network to international systems


The CDM when it becomes operational will provide opportunities for Africa to access energy technologies, but it will need the African countries to develop certain activities before the CDM becomes operational. These include: National Institutions for CDM with the activities of project development and selection


This paper has attempted to demonstrate that Africa has vast renewable and non-renewable energy resources that if exploited will contribute significantly to the continent achieving energy security. The possible growth options were discussed and the current global threat of climate instability provides the continent with opportunities to access these growth options.

However, accessing these opportunities will require overcoming certain technical, financial, information, and institutional barriers, but with suitable policies some of them can be overcome.

Table 1. Selected Energy and Climate Change Parameters of Africa and other Regions


1999 GDP per capita ($)

Energy Production/ Consumption Ratio (1997)

Carbon Emissions/capita

(Metric Tons) (1997)

Energy/GDP Ratio












FSU/E. Europe










Middle East





Other Asia





N. America





S. America





W. Europe





World Total





Other Asia excludes Australia and New Zealand
Carbon emissions excludes gas flaring
Source: Adapted from EIA, 1999




(1000 bbl/d)

Natural Gas



(Million ST)

Northern Africa




West Africa




Central Africa




East Africa




Southern Africa











(Quads Btu)


(Quads Btu)


(Quads Btu)

North Africa




West Africa




Central Africa




East Africa




Southern Africa














Crude Oil





Natural Gas