In November 2018, Rashid Ali Abdallah became the executive director of the Africa Energy Commission (Afrec), an organization which has the responsibility to co-ordinate and harmonize the protection, development and integration of energy resources. He has more than 18 years of experience in energy, sustainable development and environmental policy at national, regional and continental level. He met with Leaders League.
Leaders League. As the new executive director of the African Energy Commission, what are your priorities in terms of what you want to achieve during your tenure?
Rashid Ali Abdallah. During my tenure, my focus will be on improving the reporting on African energy sector by helping African countries build their own comprehensive national energy information systems and, as a result, enhance the decision making, policy development and investment processes. Bioenergy is another area of concern for me, since 50% of the primary energy use in Africa is generated by firewood and charcoal specially for cooking. Reporting, monitoring and sustainability of these resources would be on my list of priorities, as well, improving energy efficiency overall in Africa by adopting an integrated policy approach to transforming African markets by only accepting higher efficiency appliances. I am also working on creating an African market for oil products and natural gas by developing the required policies and strategies to enhance cross-border trade among African countries that would include developing adequate policies and advocating for required infrastructure.
"Today, solar PV and wind are 40% cheaper than new-built coal fired power plants"
Africa is only responsible for 3% of the CO2 emissions in the world. How does Afrec plan to take up the electrification challenge without increasing CO2 emissions?
Africa’s economy is growing at unprecedented speed which is driving African countries to continue developing their energy resources in order to meet rising demand. Therefore, AFREC has initiated the African Energy Transition Programme which is motivated by the urgent need to transform the African energy sector taking into consideration the AU Agenda 2063, the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement. The program aims to carry out “Deep Decarburization Pathways” throughout the continent in order to provide roadmaps that transform the energy system based on the available renewable energy resources which contribute significantly to meeting the demand without increasing CO2 emissions.
How is renewable energy doing in the African market? What are the trends?
The large majority of African countries are at the very beginning of the construction of their energy systems. They face huge challenges to meet energy access needs, and renewables are at the core of the energy-system expansion which present opportunities to build smaller-scale, modular and rapidly constructed energy infrastructure across all communities. On the other hand, for countries which have already developed centralized energy systems, renewables can provide an increasing share of the energy mix. Today, solar PV and wind are 40% cheaper than new-built coal fired power plants, and with mini-grid spread in Africa, the electrification challenges in Africa is being tackled in an efficient way.
From your point of view, which types of renewable energy must African countries prioritize?
Africa needs to develop all available types of renewable energy. For example, hydroelectric power has the highest potential of all renewable resources, with the current exploitation rate at only 8% of its potential. Solar energy is abundant everywhere in Africa, for instance the North Africa, Sahara Desert and South Africa regions have an advantage with long days and high intensity sunlight. Wind energy is also huge with high quality resources mainly in all northern and Southern African countries in addition to several countries in West, East and Central Africa.
Do you feel confident that we are moving towards a more sustainable future?
I am very confident that Africa is headed in the right direction, towards sustainable future. The African Union Agenda 2063 is driving Africa toward a prosperous future based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. The African Union is currently embarking on several initiatives that changing the landscape of the African energy sector, like the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) and the Infrastructure Development Programme in Africa (PIDA) in addition to several programmes that under implementation at national level. I am very proud that African countries like South Africa, Morocco and Egypt have accomplished remarkable achievements in renewable energy development worldwide and set different models for energy development.