The way forward in post-Covid times: renewables

Editorial by Roberto Vigotti

For several weeks now, the African continent too has been struggling against an invisible enemy: Covid-19. Although the spread in the continent is lower than in other areas of the world at the moment, it is not less worrying considering the limited capabilities of African countries to mitigate the potentially devastating effect of the virus, both from a social and economic perspective.

The economic impact of the pandemic is worsened by a context where access to sustainable and reliable energy for industries and households is extremely limited. In this continent, 600 million people still live with no access to energy.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, the African economy is suffering for the disruption of global supply chains exposed to inputs from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, as well as lower demand in global markets for a wide range of African exports. Travel bans and lockdowns are not only limiting the movement of people within countries and across borders, but they are also disrupting the way of working of many individuals, businesses and government agencies. The crumbling of the economy and of formal employment will represent a huge social problem, as already recorded in the backstreets of the megacities around the continent. It is estimated that between 9 and 18 million formal jobs in Africa could be lost or made redundant due to the Covid-19 crisis, and an additional 30 to 35 million formal jobs are at risk of reductions in wage and working hours.

In this scenario, African and European leaders of the public, private and development sectors have been quick to act and extend their proven resolve to work with Africa to safeguard the economies and livelihoods of millions of people who across Africa will be hit by the consequences of the pandemic.

And indeed, the renewable energy sector can play a fundamental role in the fight against the disastrous effects of Covid-19. Access to reliable and sustainable energy is a crucial need at all times, and becomes even more important for supporting essential services during a global crisis. In a period such as the one we are experiencing, ensuring a continuous flow of electricity is essential to keep the strategic infrastructures of the countries going. It is also a stimulus measure to boost the economic recovery.

New renewable energy investments at scale will provide a high contribution to rapid and sustained economic growth, including local value, jobs, resiliency of supply and other socio-economic benefits. Its special output supports customers, factories and services that will need to restart after the crisis, avoiding the recurrent black out or load shedding measures, and will extend access to new customers, satisfying new levels of previously uncovered demand.

Expanding renewable energy capabilities and the right policies to make them a reality will also ensure the structural shift towards a low-carbon and more resilient economy. Certainly, governments must not abandon their climate action commitments in the midst of the pandemic, as the climate emergency will remain a global issue during and after the crisis.

Governments must seize the opportunities to create jobs and improve vital infrastructure while accelerating the transitions to cleaner energy. More investments in grid enhancement, interconnections, storage and flexibility solutions are urgently needed for an effective and accelerated deployment of renewables.

In such a complex framework, RES4Africa is pursuing its programmes and intensifying the efforts to support and highlight its mission, even more crucial and urgent now.

In partnership with African regional partner institutions, the Foundation is identifying policy bottlenecks and ways to address them, and preparing recommendations to support policymakers in creating an enabling regulatory framework able to unlock investments in the renewable energy sector and, by so doing, contributing to mitigate risks which in a crisis time become bigger and bigger.

Under the framework of the European Green Deal and the Comprehensive Strategy with Africa, RES4Africa is also working with European partners to build multi-stakeholder responses. The renewAfrica Initiative, for example, aims to catalyse transformational renewable energy investments in Africa, in order to help accelerate the continent’s clean energy transition and ultimately to foster the continent’s overall sustainable development.

The crisis will dramatically affect people with the lowest income and with no access to energy, as well as to other basic services. For this reason, RES4Africa is committed to carrying out its Water-Energy-Food Nexus projects, ensuring access to electricity to foster local food production and other services, thereby improving the resilience of the most vulnerable communities.

As countries look to give their economies a much-needed jolt in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, governments and companies considering stimulus packages essentially have two choices: they can lock themselves in decades of polluting, inefficient, high-carbon technologies and unsustainable development, or they can use this as an opportunity to accelerate the inevitable shift to low-carbon and increasingly affordable energy and transport systems that will bring long-term economic benefits. The latter will also fight two major crises head-on: air pollution and the growing climate emergency.

There is no doubt that Covid can’t, and won’t, stop us. Decisions we are making now will shape the world for years to come, and questioning the climate agenda now would be a more harmful choice. For this reason, RES4Africa maintains and enhances its commitment to sustain an enabling environment for scaling up investments able to bring clean, sustainable energy to all African countries.