Key takeaways from the COP27 event "Africa’s Just Energy Transition: Scaling Up Renewable Energy Minigrids for People and Planet."
‘Minigrids for Africa’: calling for energy access for all Africans at COP27
December 14, 2022
Throughout COP27, sustainable energy champions from African countries highlighted the urgent need for clean energy access to be a key component of climate action and of a just energy transition in Africa. Energy access is a particularly urgent issue across the continent. Most of the world’s population without access to electricity lives in Sub-Saharan Africa – a region where half of the people do not have access to electricity, effectively locking some of the world’s most vulnerable communities in poverty.
Enabling the world’s poorest to have access to sustainable, reliable, and affordable energy is at the heart of UNDP’s mission. We have pledged to mobilize partners to provide energy access to 500 million people by 2025, focusing on the world’s hardest-to-reach areas, because we know that energy access is a pre-condition to development, and brings opportunities, equality, and dignity.
At COP27, we focused our energy access call-to-action on showcasing the immense potential of renewable energy minigrids to boost development, livelihoods and climate action across Africa. The COP27 side-event Africa’s Just Energy Transition: Scaling Up Renewable Energy Minigrids for People and Planet, organised by UNDP, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), RMI and the African Development Bank, convened minigrids stakeholders from across Africa for a rich discussion on the minigrid opportunity. It also officially launched the UNDP-led Africa Minigrids Program (AMP), a new initiative working with 21 African countries to promote private investments in solar-battery minigrids, providing access to electricity and new development opportunities across the continent.
Here are three key takeaways from this event.
1. Minigrids have the potential to be a game-changer for hundreds of millions of people across Africa
Solar-battery minigrids hold great potential to boost electricity access in the AMP’s 21 countries – powering households, key social services such as health centers and schools, and businesses, driving economic growth. UNDP modelling estimates that minigrids will be the lowest-cost approach to bring electricity to 265 million people in these countries by the year 2030. US$65 billion in new investments, primarily from the private sector, would be needed to realize the minigrid opportunity in those countries. This is estimated to equate to the construction of 110,000 minigrids, bringing electricity to more than 200,000 schools and clinics, and more than 900,000 businesses.
The minigrid market opportunity in the 21 Africa Minigrids Program countries
people could gain electricity through minigrids by 2030
are needed to realise the minigrid opportunity in the 21 AMP countries
This would equate the construction of 110,000 minigrids.
schools and hospitals would have access to electricity.
businesses would have access to electricity.
“Far from being an issue only related to reducing carbon emissions, providing energy access through modern, decentralized renewable energy systems is above all about equity and improving livelihoods, increasing resilience, and protecting nature”, said the GEF CEO Carlos Manuel Rodriguez as he opened the event with a video message.
The new Africa Minigrids Program is a clear demonstration of developing countries asserting their sovereignty, taking more control over the development destiny, and addressing the need for access to electricity with a clean energy future pathway.Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator
“The new Africa Minigrids Program is a clear demonstration of developing countries asserting their sovereignty, taking more control over the development destiny, and addressing the need for access to electricity with a clean energy future pathway. It is a realization that it makes complete economic sense to invest in the energy infrastructure of tomorrow by addressing the urgent development needs of today,” added Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, in a video message.
“When you work in development, you don’t rest until you find solutions for the poor. What happens to the people who are not connected to the national grid? Can we give them a chance to transform their lives with other technologies that give them the energy access that they need? Renewable energy minigrids are one of these solutions. In these days of risks and disasters, we need to have everyone connected,” added Ahunna Eziakonwa, UNDP’s Regional Director for Africa.
“Energy must service households, but it must first and foremost support the productive uses of electricity. It is the productive uses of electricity that will help households living in rural and peri-urban areas increase their income, have jobs, and transform agriculture. This requires a wide array of partners working together,” said Idesbald Chinamula, head of the rural electrification agency of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
2. Governments must put in place the policies that support the development of private minigrids markets
Throughout the event, speakers highlighted that bringing renewable energy minigrids to scale will require large private investments. Public finance will not be enough to seize what Ahunna Eziakonwa referred to as a “business opportunity”.
“The Africa Minigrids Program will help us build policies, strategies, business models that support the development of minigrids for a long period of time – and that's what we want. We don't want investments that disappear after two, three, five years. Governments must support private investments by putting in place a framework that enables such investments,” said Idesbald Chinamula, head of the rural electrification agency of the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Africa Minigrids Program will help us build policies, strategies, business models that support the development of minigrids for a long period of time – and that's what we want.Idesbald Chinamula, head of the rural electrification agency of the Democratic Republic of Congo
“The private sector is an integral part of the solution. The idea that the main grid will supplant minigrids constrains the private sector's ability to invest – my investors are less interested investing if they believe something is going to come and supplant it,” said Nicole Poindexter, CEO and founder, Energicity. “We need to continue to think through the long-term solutions, and to think through how we can collaborate and build a distributed grid. In the era of climate change, distribution is critical to long-term resilience. Minigrids are one strategy to really drive decarbonization of national grids, and it is a strategy that relies on long-term partnerships with the private sector.”
3. The minigrids space in Africa is rich and diverse, with great potential to share knowledge and experiences.
The Africa Minigrids Program seeks to complement and build on existing activities already in place across the minigrids space, and understand the needs of the markets.
“As a minigrids developer, one of the things that slow us down the most is ‘going bigger’,” explained Nicole Poindexter, CEO and founder, Energicity. “The programmes that we've had the slowest time rolling out have been the most ambitious ones. If we were able to have a structure that allows us to develop and roll out projects incrementally in a distributed energy fashion, in combination with larger programmes, I believe that this would lead to more people getting electricity faster.”
“We need to do a lot more around sort of having standardised market development approaches, with a clear approach to what is of the required regulation”, mentioned Dr Daniel Schroth, Director, Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Department, African Development Bank Group as an example of an area that would benefit from improved knowledge-sharing. “There's already a lot being done in many African countries where from which we can learn – there's no need to reinvent the wheel.”
“Our role will be precisely to fill in some the data gaps, build capacities, and most importantly to ensure that the scalability of these energy solutions – starting small, but always thinking big,” said Raul Alfaro-Pelico, Senior Director the Energy Transition Academy, RMI.
The Africa Minigrids Program is now on the road. We are going to deliver it. Twenty-one countries, twenty-one good stories. Kick us hard if you don't see us moving fast enough. We must ensure everyone who needs energy access gets it.Ahunna Eziakonwa, Regional Director for Africa, UNDP
Critically, this also means including young people in the minigrids space. “There's a huge untapped potential with young people. Young people are a powerful workforce, especially as we look towards a timeline towards 2030,” said Oluwadabira Abiola-Awe, youth energy activist and Ventures & Capital Campaign Associate at Student Energy. “Renewable energy is going to create 122 million jobs between now and 2030. We're going to need young people to do these jobs. Africa is a youthful population, so if 60% of the population is unemployed, how are we going to fill these jobs?”
This call to harness the power of Africa’s youthful population was echoed by energy and climate activists across COP27. During a dedicated session as part of the UNDP Hour, organized in partnership with We Don’t Have Time, young entrepreneurs and sustainable energy advocates Delphin Kaze from Benin, Muhammad Shamsuddin Ibrahim from Nigeria, and Hamira Kobusingye from Uganda shared their vision and hopes for ending energy poverty and promoting equitable climate action in Africa.
As Ahunna Ezikonwa said at the end of our COP27 event, “the AMP is now on the road. We are going to deliver it. Twenty-one countries, twenty-one good stories. Kick us hard if you don't see us moving fast enough. We must ensure everyone who needs energy access gets it.”.
Africa's Just Energy Transition: Scaling up Renewable Minigrids for People and Planet
Watch the recording of our COP27 launch event here.