Power for All has queried the African Development Bank’s New Deal on Energy for Africa. The Deal launched at the Bank’s 51st Annual Meetings in Lusaka, Zambia, is a partnership-driven effort with the aspirational goal of achieving universal access to energy in Africa by 2025, the Bank announced.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) believes that by achieving the following four targets; increase on-grid generation to add 160 GW of new capacity by 2025; increase on-grid transmission and grid connections that will create 130 million new connections by 2025, 160 per cent more than today; increase off-grid generation to add 75 million connections by 2025, 20 times what we have today and increasing access to clean cooking energy for around 130 million households, the over 645 million Africans without electricity would be served.
But in an email sent to ghanabusinessnews.com, Power for All, which describes itself as a collective of public and private organizations dedicated to delivering universal energy access before 2030, thinks the AfDB is not focusing on decentralized renewable energy solutions.
Citing an advert for a new position at the Bank to address the energy situation, the group thinks the Bank is starting on the wrong foot.
“In an advert this week in The Economist, the African Development Bank posted an opening for a Vice President of Power, Energy and Green Growth (VP of PEGG), who it said “will champion the New Deal on Energy for Africa and will lead the Transformative Partnership on Energy for Africa to achieve universal energy access in Africa.” Great news, right?
Not so fast. The position’s key requirements were listed as being a “thought leader with a track record in large-scale electrification, mega project execution across borders and more broadly, energy systems capacity building,” the group said.
The group pointed out the mention of ‘large-scale’ and ‘mega’ and stated that the Bank failed to mention decentralized solutions “which are critical to achieving energy access for Africa’s more than 600 million people with no electricity, the vast majority of whom live in remote areas that are not conducive to big, expensive, and slow-to-deploy centralized grid solutions.”
The group emphasized that total absence of decentralized in the job description is curious, since one of the pillars of the New Deal is an ambitious carve out for “off-grid” solutions.
“Specifically AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina said that the New Deal would include 75 million “off-grid” connections, as well as 130 million on-grid connections. Never mind that the AfDB’s target was the inverse ratio recommended by the IEA (which suggest two-thirds off-grid vs. one-third on-grid), it was still seen as a major step towards recognizing the importance of decentralized solutions in achieving universal energy access,” it added.
According to the group the importance of the new AfDB hire is not trivial, since he or she will oversee the $35 billion the AfDB will invest over the next 10 years, as well as an additional $45 to $50 billion the Bank hopes to leverage for energy investments during that period.
“The bias among multilateral development banks for big centralized electricity projects is well documented. As of 2014, none of the big banks, including the AfDB and the World Bank, spent more than 2 percent of their energy investments on decentralized renewable solutions. Yet, according to the World Bank’s own internal audit, their average power projects take 9 years to complete. So if universal energy access in Africa is to be achieved by 2025, which is AfDB’s publicly stated goal, decentralized must be a core pathway,” it noted.
The group points out another hire at the Bank describing it as “troubling.”
“Another perhaps troubling development for decentralized solutions in Africa was a senior AfDB hire earlier this year, when Frannie Leautier joined as a senior vice president after more than a decade with the World Bank, mostly focused on big infrastructure. The few AfDB champions of decentralized solutions are doing great work, advancing smaller-scale renewables through the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (SEFA) program, and pushing ahead on a green mini-grid development program, but the champions are too few, and the programs are de minimus to the needs and opportunities for innovative, non-“business-as-usual” solutions.
Largely free from legacy infrastructure, the AfDB has a chance to design the energy infrastructure of the future in Africa. Yet initial signs indicate that they may be embracing solutions that were first developed in the 19th century and have remained largely unchanged. Let’s not let the power of inertia trump the rapid, cost-effective and transformative power of decentralized renewables,” Power for All urged.
But in a response to the remarks following a ghanabusinessnews.com request for a reaction from the Bank, the Bank’s Acting Head of Communications and External Relations, John Philips said, “just to confirm that you’re absolutely right about the New Deal’s plans to deliver off-grid solutions. We didn’t have space in the advertisement to enlarge further on all its goals. Clearly decentralized (off grid solutions) and renewable energy are both critical for the new job. Frannie Leautier is on You Tube and in various books with a big focus on renewables and decentralized systems, and she has been published on the issue of decentralized roads (not just energy). Here’s an example for GE: http://www.gereports.com/post/124861819083/how-to-unlock-african-entrepreneurship-interview-with-dr/.”
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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