Ghana and major African coal-rich countries including South Africa and Nigeria stand to gain from a statement by the US Treasury that Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) should re-think their opposition to the use of fossil fuels, especially coal.
The announcement would help countries to access the natural resources more cleanly and efficiently, according to the experts.
US President Donald Trump had signalled the stand by his administration at the Munich G20 meeting in July amid opposition from climate change activists who argued that emissions from fossil fuels were damaging the environment.
The US policy under Barack Obama, was to reduce dependency on coal for energy which he declared at the launched of his Power Initiative for Africa in 2013. He had said, his administration would not back the use of coal abroad for electricity generation unless there were carbon emission controls.
This did not go down well with African countries with abundant coal reserves, more so on a continent where over 600 million people do not have access to electricity.
They argue that they should be allowed to use coal to speed up their development just as Europe and North America had done to industrialise.
Naeema Ahmed, Founder and Director of the Africa Alternative Energy Initiative (AAEI) in London, welcomed the US Treasury’s stand and told the Ghana News Agency (GNA): “As a matter of urgency, countries need to look at alternative ways of accessing and using cleaner fossil fuels as well as renewable energy for economic development.
“This will help resolve issues of climate change and industrialised carbon emissions.
“As an organisation, the AAEI has been advocating and promoting cleaner and affordable energy through distributed generation,” she added.
The message would also be welcomed by the African Development Bank (AfDB), which in 2016, approved $1.7 billion for power projects ranging from policy-based operations to power generation, public sector transmission and distribution.
Just before the US announcement, the President of the AfDB, Akinwumi Adesina, called on the West to recognise the need for Africa take a pragmatic approach to energy access.
Addressing the launch of the Japan-Africa Energy Initiative in Addis Ababa, he said: “Africa must develop its energy sector with what it has.”
“Endowed with many different energy sources – both renewable and conventional – Africa needs a balanced energy mix.
“This must include renewable and conventional sources of power for lighting and heating homes, for cooking, for schools, hospitals, offices, manufacturing plants and factories.”
He added: “Africa loses about four per cent of its annual gross domestic product from energy bottlenecks and inefficiencies, while 645 million people have no access to electricity; 137 years after the invention of the light bulb.”
Africa has the lowest electrification rate in the world, with the lowest power consumption per capita estimated at 613 kWh per annum, compared to 6,500 kWh in Europe and 13,000 kWh in the US.
African countries therefore call for the chance to make use of its 50 billion tons of coal reserves to provide access to electricity for more people while making use of clean technology.
Mr Adesina said many African leaders had shown “keen interest in accessing Japan’s world-renowned energy technologies, including its ultra-supercritical clean coal technologies”.
“Japan has answered our call to make it easier for African governments to adopt a balanced energy mix of all available energy sources and technologies, including the best low-emitting clean coal technologies, where they form part of a least-cost sector development plan,” he added.
Last October, Nigerian Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, told a joint IMF and World Bank meeting: “We in Nigeria have coal but we have power problems, yet we’ve been blocked because it is not green.
“There is some hypocrisy because we have the entire Western industrialisation built on coal energy.
“That is the competitive advantage that they have been using and now that Africa wants to use coal they deny us.”
In May 2016, Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said: “We think that we must use our fossil fuel to the maximum; we must use our coal to the maximum; and we simply call on the support of the developed nations that are aggressive about reducing emissions, especially in coal power plants, to give us the technology required because, obviously, there is available technology to make coal clean which we call for.”
According to the International Energy Agency’s New Policies Scenario, demand for coal in Nigeria will increase from 1Mtoe in 2020 to 12Mtoe in 2040
In Tanzania, where the Mbeya Coal to Power Project will increase the country’s electricity generation capacity by about 25 per cent, the Minister for Minerals and Energy, Sospeter Muhongo, said: “We will start intensifying the utilisation of coal….
“Why shouldn’t we use coal when there are other countries where their CO2 per capita is so high?”
The Paris Agreement on climate change, which became effective, last year, calls for countries to act to achieve low emissions targets.
Ghana, South Africa and Nigeria have included low emission coal technology in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are the foundation of the Agreement.
In Ghana, as part of its energy mix programme, a Chinese company, in collaboration with the Volta River Authority, is developing 2×350MW supercritical coal-fired generating units, including an affiliated coal handling terminal at Ekumfi.
The project would be expanded either by a 4×350MW or 2×600MW supercritical coal-fired generating units and contribute to addressing the domestic power generation shortfall and improve Ghana’s future power balance, according to the VRA.
Ghana’s move is in line with a recent report by the Africa Progress Panel (APP) on using fossil fuels – especially Africa’s massive coal reserves – to provide
electricity on the continent, while making use of new technology to reduce emissions.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Chairman of the APP, launching the report said he backed the use of fossil fuels to bridge Africa’s huge energy gap.
“What we are advocating is that African governments harness every available energy option, in as cost-effective and technologically efficient manner as possible, so that no one is left behind,” Mr Annan said.
“Each country needs to decide on the most cost-effective, technologically efficient energy mix that works best for its own needs.
“Governments and their partners need to seize the opportunity to re-imagine their energy futures.
“Africa’s energy deficit continues to stifle economic growth, job creation, agricultural transformation, and improvements in health and education,” Mr Annan added.
With a new technology such as carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS), the World Coal Association (WCA) in London says the integrated suite of technologies could capture up to 90 per cent of the CO2 emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes, preventing the CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
Benjamin Sporton, CEO at the WCA, told the GNA he was optimistic that the MDBs would change their policy on the use of coal for energy, although it might take between eighteen months and two years.
He said it would make sense for the MDBs to support African countries that wanted to build coal-fired power stations to bring them up to standard.
“Our belief is that MDBs should be helping African countries to use coal as part of an energy mix,” he added.
The energy mix is critical in helping Africa to increase access to electricity on the continent, Mr Sporton told the GNA, adding that renewable energy was not as reliable as was being touted.
He agreed that solar power could be used to provide domestic electricity, but for businesses and major industries, solar was of no use as it was expensive and unreliable
“For economies to grow you need affordable power for industrial development so that jobs can be provided.”
South Africa’s coal industry has been providing low-cost coal-fired electricity for energy intensive mining and heavy industry, and the government plans reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2025 while the Energy Department aims to achieve 30 per cent of clean energy at the same time.