In November 2016 the Paris Agreement was ratified and put into action. The world agreed that it would take measures to limit the world’s temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The news that world CO2 emissions have stabilised over the past three years is promising. This was mainly due to a slowdown of emissions from China and the USA, the two biggest CO2 emitters on the planet. What that doesn’t take into consideration is that much of the world, especially the USA, China and the United Kingdom, pumped enormous amounts of CO2 from Coal and Gas power plants into the atmosphere in order to industrialised and grow their economies.
Emerging economies worldwide, who are playing catch up economically with the worlds economic powerhouses, will be in great need of power in the coming years. 2016 figures from WEO show that the National electrification rate of Africa as a whole is just 45%. For sub-Saharan Africa that figure drops to 35%. In coming years, a lot of resources will be put into electrifying more and more of the continent. This paired with the increasing need of the industrial sector for energy, means that Africa will have three times the demand for electricity by 2030.
This huge increase in demand over the next 13 years will place considerable stress on the Paris Agreement, especially if renewables are not utilised and fossil fuels is relied upon. UC Berkeley and Lawrence National Laboratory team have been researching a strategy for developing wind and solar power, rather than a reliance on fossil fuel. They have found that by strategically placing wind and solar plants, and enabling international sharing of power, then there could be a significant reduction in the need for conventional fossil and hydroelectric plants.
Currently, one of the big problems is that energy resources are not spread evenly around the continent. Another issue is that around a third of African countries rely on hydroelectric power, which is becoming increasingly unreliable in recent years. By choosing sites in which wind energy would match the timing of electricity demand would be more efficient and therefore less costly than just choosing the sites where the most win energy production is possible.
Meeting the increasing demand of electricity and also meeting peak demand in areas where wind power fluctuates and solar power, of course, only works during day time hours, which are limited close to the equator, will also need adequate storage solutions. There have been various storage solutions banded around that hope to be able to fill the gap between supply and demand during peak periods. The power to gas and power to liquid methods have huge potential in Africa. When Berkeley’s roadmap is followed and renewables are places strategically, it would also be possible to use any surplus energy, for example day time solar excesses, to turn CO2 and water into liquid fuel or gas.
It will take further investment and advances in renewable energy and storage of renewable energy to increase the speed of development in emerging markets. Technology is catching up with demand, and competition to offer solutions is heating up. Fossil fuels can not be the answer, but biofuels and synthetic fuels do offer a solution. As well as being an area with incredible business potential, new technology could enable Africa to meet their enormous energy demand, continue to develop, without adding to the worlds climate problems.