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South Africa joins the IEA family, boosting global energy governance

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IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol (left) and HE Minister Jeff Radebe, Minister of Energy of the Republic of South Africa (Photograph: IEA)

HE Minister Jeff Radebe, Minister of Energy of the Republic of South Africa, and Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, jointly announced today South Africa’s decision to join the IEA as an Association country. South Africa is the first sub-Saharan African country to institutionalise its engagement with the IEA, a development that marks an important milestone for energy governance in Africa and globally.

South Africa is a major player in African energy markets representing the largest energy consumer on the continent, accounting for about half of Africa’s electricity capacity and possessing one of the highest electrification rates. The IEA is prioritizing work in Africa in the years ahead, and South Africa will be a critical partner for launching and delivering an ambitious array of energy access, security and clean energy transitions initiatives across the continent.

“I approved of South Africa joining the IEA as an Association country because this decision places us at the centre of the global energy forum with positive economic benefits for our country as we learn from IEA family members,” said Minister Radebe.

While commending Minister Radebe for spearheading South Africa’s energy sector reform and making outstanding progress in improving the country’s electrification rate, Dr Birol stated that “today, Mr Minister, you again demonstrate South Africa’s leadership both in Africa and beyond. I am fully confident that this new chapter in our relationship will be mutually beneficial.”

Among the agreements signed by the two leaders was a three-year joint programme of work identifying opportunities for collaboration on energy statistics, energy efficiency, electrification and power system transition, renewables integration, energy innovation, and domestic gas market design.

South Africa’s decision to join the IEA family is a welcome development, and critical to the advancement of the IEA’s modernization mandate, which was defined during the 2015 Ministerial meeting and is built on three pillars: opening the agency’s doors to emerging countries; broadening energy security beyond oil to natural gas and electricity; and developing a global clean energy hub, including for energy efficiency.

The result has been a marked growth in the IEA family to include 30 members and 8 Association countries, and to represent almost 75% of global energy consumption.

In speaking of joining the IEA family, Minister Radebe extended his “appreciation to the IEA and Dr Birol’s leadership in achieving such a result in working with South Africa to become an Association country” and highlighted that he looks forward to “working together on affordable, accessible, and clean energy”.

Dr Birol praised Minister Radebe for his vision and action and emphasized that the IEA looks forward to working with South Africa “to make the energy world more sustainable, more secure and more equitable.”

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Mini Grids Have Potential to Bring Electricity to Half a Billion People

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Mini grids, previously viewed as a niche solution, can provide electricity to as many as 500 million people by 2030, helping close the energy access gap, according to a new World Bank report. The combination of falling costs, dramatic increase in quality of service, and enabling policies has made mini grids a scalable option to complement grid extension and solar home systems.

Mini Grids for Half a Billion People: Market Outlook and Handbook for Decision Makers is the most comprehensive study on mini grids to date. It provides policy makers, investors, and developers with insights on how mini grids can be scaled up.  It takes stock of the global market and industry, analyses costs and technological innovations, and shows the importance of microfinance and income-generating uses of electricity.  

Compared with main grid and solar home systems, mini grids are a more viable solution for areas with high population density and medium electricity demand. Extending main grid to serve remote communities is often prohibitively expensive. Globally, at least 19,000 mini grids are already installed in 134 countries, representing a total investment of $28 billion and providing electricity to around 47 million people. Most are deployed in Asia, while Africa has the largest share of planned mini grids.

At present the total mini grid investment in countries with low levels of electricity access in Africa and Asia totals $5 billion. It is estimated that $220 billion is needed to connect 500 million people to 210,000 mini grids in these regions by 2030. Across the globe, countries need to actively mobilize private sector investment. This can be achieved by setting up policies that support comprehensive electrification programs, promoting viable business models, and providing public funding, for example through performance-based grants.

Mini grids are now one of the core solutions for closing the energy access gap. We see great potential for mini grid development at scale and are working with countries to actively mobilize public and private investment,” said Riccardo Puliti, Senior Director of Energy and Extractives at the World Bank. “The World Bank has been scaling up its support to mini grids while helping countries develop comprehensive electrification programs. Our commitments to mini grids represent about one-quarter of total investment by the public and private sector in our client countries. The Bank’s portfolio spans 37 mini grids projects in 33 countries, with a total commitment of more than $660 million. This investment is expected to leverage an additional $1.1 billion in cofinancing.”

In addition to being cost-efficient, mini grids have many other benefits. They have positive environmental impacts: 210,000 mini grids powered by solar energy would help avoid 1.5 billion tons of CO2 emissions globally. They also offer national utilities a win-win solution in the electricity sector by paving the way for more financially viable future grid expansion.

By the time the main grid arrives, significant demand for electricity would already exist and customers would have greater ability to pay through the generation of productive uses made possible by mini grids.

Funding for the report was provided by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP).

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UNIDO advocates for sustainable energy at EUSEW

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photo: UNIDO

For the second consecutive year, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) took an active part in the European Union’s Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) in Brussels, which focused on ‘Shaping Europe’s Energy Future’. “Ongoing research and collaborative actions between the European Union and Africa are crucial to renew the partnership”, said UNIDO Climate Change Expert Cassandra Pillay. “The aim of this event is to facilitate policy debates and strengthen partnerships between the two continents across private and public sectors”.

Pillay participated in the session “EU-AFRICA Long term Partnership on Sustainable Energy: The Role of Research & Innovation”, with UNIDO also contributing to the “Transport, Energy and Digitalisation – City and Industry Views” session, which was jointly organized by ERTICO-ITS Europe, EUROCITIES, ORGALIM and UNIDO. The session addressed the synergies between the transport, energy and digital sectors to achieve sustainable energy policy goals and aimed at enhancing the value of actions and cross-sectoral work programmes.

The EUSEW is a flagship event organized by the European Commission to bring awareness about renewable and efficient energy use across Europe, which brings together public authorities, private companies, NGOs and consumers to promote initiatives to save energy and move towards renewables for clean, secure and efficient power. More than 4,000 registered participants attended.

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IEA Technology Collaboration Programme holds its third universal meeting

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Innovators and strategic thinkers from around the world discussed key trends in energy technology and research at the meeting. (Photograph: IEA)

Leading energy experts from the public and private sector gathered in Paris on 18 and 19 June for the third universal meeting under the International Energy Agency’s Technology Collaboration Programme (TCP).

Innovation is an essential underpinning of energy sector transitions worldwide. Given the growing complexity and interconnection of energy systems, cooperation and networking can increase effectiveness and maximise the impact of innovation efforts.

“2019 is a key year for innovation at the IEA,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director. “A more integrated and holistic approach to energy technology innovation is required to reach a sustainable energy future, which means even more partnerships among those in this room.”   

For more than 40 years, the vast amount of research and technology analysis carried out under the TCP network has provided a vital contribution to advancing clean energy technologies worldwide. The TCP currently has some 6,000 participants representing 300 government and industry entities from 54 countries, demonstrating the reach of the TCP’s global innovation network. This body of knowledge supports high-level debates and real-world actions.

The first day of this week’s event was jointly hosted by the IEA Committee on Energy Research and Technology and the IEA Standing Group on Long-Term Co-operation. It brought together policy and decision makers to share experiences on disruptive innovation, technology trends, and partnerships between governments, the private sector and other energy stakeholders.

The meeting provided an opportunity for innovators and strategic thinkers to discuss key trends, which will help to inform future IEA activities related to energy technology, research and innovation. That includes the preparations for the 2019 IEA Ministerial and the 2020 edition of Energy Technology Perspectives, one of the IEA’s major publications.

At the meeting, the IEA unveiled new tools and online resources available under its energy innovation web portal, including a study mapping international partnerships relevant to energy technology innovation in order to identify synergies and foster strategic engagement across initiatives. The IEA Secretariat also outlined plans for a major effort to modernise the TCP legal mechanism, further explore how the IEA can make better use of TCP work and improve communication across the TCP network.

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