Feature Report: Africas's Energy Challenges

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A Rich and Varied Energy Potential

Africa's energy needs are expected to increase at a fast past, driven by economic growth of around 5%, a population that is rising faster than the rest of the world and rampant urbanization. A combination of poverty, certain governance-related issues and the risk of above average global warming are impeding the development of Africa's energy resources, which are considerable. Africa has been extracting and producing oil for decades. Its natural gas reserves have begun to be developed. Its hydroelectric resources are underutilized, and its solar, wind and geothermal potential is tremendous. 

Africa has extracted its fossil fuels for decades. Here, we see the Grondin platform opened by Total in 1971 off the coast of Gabon. ©SCHAFF PHILIPPE - TOTAL

Oil Production Dates Back Decades

Oil explorationAll methods used to discover new oil and natural gas deposits. and production have been a part of African history ever since the 1930s when international oil companies arrived on the continent. Prior to 1960, African oil production was low. The first major leap forward took place in 1960-1970, led by Gabon, Nigeria, Algeria and Libya. The second one occurred at the end of the 20th century when important oil discoveries were made in the Golf of Guinea and off the coast of Angola (see Feature Report: The Rise of Offshore Oil and Gas Production).

In 2014, African oil accounted for more than 10% of world production and nearly 20% of global export volume. Production is expected to continue growing, albeit at a slower pace due to higher costs associated with increasingly complex fields and the depressed international oil market, which is hurting major oil producers such as Nigeria, Algeria and Angola.

Over the decades, the oil majorsWord sometimes used to describe the leading international oil companies. have been expanding the local content of their operations – notably by making it a priority to hire local teams and provide them with training – so that host countries can reap a larger share of the economic benefits. Furthermore, they support local education and outreach programs and are helping to improve access to energy for host communities.

Total in Angola, for example, has increased the involvement of local contractors in its offshoreRefers to sea-based oil exploration and production operations, as in "offshore license" or "offshore drilling". projects. The number of local man-hours for the CLOV and Kaombo projects came to 10 million and 14 million respectively. In the field of safety, between 2005 and 2015, Total halved the number of recordable injuries, while increasing output by 40%. 

10%: the percentage of the world's oil produced offshore

The Economic Recovery of Gas

Recovering and utilizing associated gas from oil fields to reduce flaring is one of the most significant developments in the energy industry. Flaring reduction is a global initiative. According to a World Bank report, 150 billion cubic meters of natural gas are flared annually. Of this amount 40 billion cubic meters are flared in Africa alone, which is equivalent to half of the continent's powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... consumption1. The liquefied natural gas (LNG)LNG is composed almost entirely of methane. Liquefying the gas reduces its initial volume by a factor of around 600... industry is opening up new outlets for associated gas. Between 2005 and 2015, Total reduced the amount of gas flared in its operations by 56%.

Africa's LNG market, already well developed in Nigeria and Algeria, is set to grow sharply off the coast of East Africa, thanks to huge natural gas discoveries in Mozambique and Tanzania.

Hydropower Lagging Behind

Africa is home to some powerful rivers but only uses about 5% of its hydropower potential. The Aswan High Dam in Egypt, for example, built at the end of the 1960s, now ranks just 49th among the world's largest dams, which are primarily located in China and the Americas.

Several extremely ambitious projects are underway that could put Africa at the top of the global list. However, they are experiencing problems typical of those found in the hydropower industry: elevated financing costs, long completion times, challenging work in under-equipped areas and the need to obtain the approval of different countries as large-scale projects like these often involve extensive waterways.

The following two projects have either been confirmed or launched:

If built, the Grand Inga Dam on the Congo River would be the largest in the world.

Solar and Wind Farms

Many African countries are starting to embrace both solar energy (the Ourazazate farm in Morocco, the Zagtouli plant in Burkina Faso and the Nzema project in Ghana) and wind power (the Lake Turkana wind project in Kenya and the Ashegoda farm in Ethiopia).

Thanks to distributed (decentralized) solar technology, the prospects for solar energy are extremely bright. See Close-Up: Electrification: Hopes for a Solar Revolution. 


Sources :

(1) Source: World Bank