A 37-square-kilometer solar park so large that it can be seen from space, with over seven million photovoltaic panels, and funding of $4 billion. In Africa? Impossible? Not anymore.
Thirty international infrastructure developers got behind this project, investing in Egypt’s massive Benban solar park, which will be the largest in the world upon completion. Among the investors is Africa50, established by the African Development Bank.
Africa50 is an independent infrastructure fund, focused on high-impact projects mostly in the energy and transport sectors. The investment vehicle contributes to Africa’s growth by developing and investing in bankable projects, catalyzing public sector capital and mobilizing private sector funding.
Africa50’s investment in Egypt’s 1.5 GW solar park in the Aswan desert is a prime example.
The solar energy potential in Egypt, a country known for year-round sunny days, has long tempted investors. But the high cost of solar plants led the government to favor climate-warming fossil fuels, accounting for 90% of its power generation.
Now that the prices of its components have fallen, solar energy has become competitive, allowing Benban to become a reality. In 2017, Africa50 joined investors Norfund and Scatec Solar to reach financial close for six of the 32 utility scale solar power plants in the complex, totaling 390 MW.
The Benban project, providing clean energy to hundreds of thousands of households, will help Egypt to reach its target of generating 20% of its power from renewable sources by 2022. It has put Egypt on the map as a major solar player in Africa and has set a precedent for using North Africa’s ample solar resources to provide power while meeting climate change commitments.
The solar power project has also demonstrated Africa50’s ability to act as a bridge between the private sector and governments to deliver more projects more quickly and help narrow Africa’s infrastructure gap.
Africa50 is one of the largest contributors to the Benban park. With a 25% stake, the investment platform contributed equity to fund construction, alongside Scatec Solar and Norfund, which helped leverage total funding of around $450 million from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Dutch Development Bank FMO, the Green Climate Fund, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector.
“Benban is a good example of how we use early stage project development expertise and financing to rapidly bring projects to financial close and then add equity to encourage broader financing,” said Alain Ebobissé, Africa50 CEO.
“Benban is also the first of our dozen active projects to become fully operational and is now delivering clean energy to Egyptian people and businesses,” he added.
The plants are supported by 25-year power purchase agreements with the Egyptian Electricity Transmission Company (EETC) under Egypt’s Feed-in Tariff program, backstopped by a sovereign guarantee. Access roads and interconnection facilities were funded collectively by the Benban project developers under a cost-sharing agreement with EETC and the New and Renewable Energy Agency.
The development impact of Benban is tremendous. Africa50’s six plants alone created about 1,000 construction jobs (out of 4,500 total jobs) and a quarter of the 250 permanent operations positions.
In 2019, when the plants were operational, they started producing about 870 GW hours of power annually, providing clean energy for over 400,000 households and avoiding 350,000 tons of CO₂ emissions that would have been produced from non-renewable sources.
The consortium is also pioneering the use of bifacial solar modules, capturing the sun from both sides of the panel to increase generation.
The innovations of the Benban project could provide valuable insights for the Desert to Power program, led by the African Development Bank. Desert to Power, with which Africa50 is associated, aims to develop 10 GW of solar power across the Sahel by 2025 and supply 250 million people with green electricity, including in some of the world’s poorest countries.
Moreover, Benban’s links to the infrastructure of the Aswan Dam will help combine hydro, wind, and solar power, a model for other African regions.
The landmark Benban project is an example of a fundamental change in the way an African country can provide power to its people.
For decades, the Egyptian government had built and operated most power plants and was spending more on electricity subsidies than it was on education, healthcare, and social welfare combined.
Benban proves that, with the right regulatory regime and cost structure, the private sector, supported by partners such as Africa50, can make solar power attractive, allowing governments to focus on other pressing priorities.
Indeed, in the time of COVID-19, partners such as Africa50 can play a key role in leveraging private finance to free up government budgets across the continent to deploy resources to fight the pandemic.
EU countries are purchasing more LNG from Russia
Europe again risks becoming dependent on Russian LNG. EU countries are purchasing more gas from Russia than before the Ukrainian conflict. From January to July, they purchased 40% more raw materials from it compared to the same period in 2021, Chinese publication Sina writes.
On August 30, the non-governmental organization Global Witness said that in the first seven months of 2023, European Union countries spent almost 5.3 billion euros purchasing liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russia, accounting for more than half of total imports. At the same time, Spain and Belgium have become the second and third largest buyers of Russian LNG in the world. Global Witness also found that EU members are now purchasing far more liquefied natural gas from Russia than before the Ukrainian conflict erupted in 2022.
Eurostat data also shows that in the first quarter of 2023, Russia became the second largest supplier of LNG to the eurozone, behind only the United States and ahead of such exporters of this type of gas as Qatar, Algeria, Norway and Nigeria.
According to Global Witness statistics, from January to July 2023, EU countries purchased 22 million cubic meters of Russian LNG, an increase of 40% compared to 15 million cubic meters in the same period in 2021.
Using Russian LNG prices estimated by the Center for Energy and Clean Air Research based on spot and monthly trade figures, Global Witness forecasts EU purchases in 2023 of €5.29 billion.
The growth in imports of liquefied natural gas from Russia to the EU significantly exceeds the growth in the volume of trade in Russian LNG on the world market (6%). From January to July 2023, the share of purchases from Russia in the total LNG imports of the European Union amounted to 52%. For comparison, in 2022 the share was 49%, and in 2021 – 39%.
In March 2022, the European Union proposed a plan called REPowerEU, which aims to gradually eliminate dependence on Russian natural gas by 2027. But judging by the current situation, the EU still has a long way to go to achieve this goal, as it still relies heavily on Moscow for fossil energy.
In March 2023, European Commission Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson called on EU member states and companies to stop buying Russian LNG. Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera also asked local entrepreneurs not to sign new contracts for gas imports from Russia.
Currently, Spain is the second largest buyer of Russian LNG in the world, and Belgium is the third. In the first seven months of 2023, Madrid purchased about 18% of all Russian gas exports, and Brussels about 17%. These two countries are second only to mainland China at 20%. At the same time, for the same period in 2021, Spain ranked only fifth, and Belgium seventh.
Spanish utility company Naturgy has signed a major contract with France’s Total for the supply of Russian liquefied natural gas.
According to the data, natural gas reserves in Europe are currently close to 90% of capacity, but the storage limit of 100 billion cubic meters is still too low, given annual consumption of 350-500 billion cubic meters.
Guterres leads call to make Africa ‘renewable energy superpower’
The flame of injustice is “scorching hopes and possibilities” across Africa as the world grapples with the climate crisis, with the continent suffering some of the worst impacts of global warming said the UN chief on Tuesday.
Secretary-General António Guterres was addressing the African Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, noting that despite “extreme heat, ferocious floods, and tens of thousands dead from devastating droughts”, the continent was responsible for less than four per cent of emissions.
“The blow inflicted on development is all around with growing hunger and displacement”, he said.
But amid the “climate chaos” he said it was still possible to avoid the worst, “but only with a quantum leap in climate action.”
He said far greater climate ambition was needed from all countries led by the largest emitters, in line with his Climate Solidarity Pact and Acceleration Agenda.
He called on the G20 advanced economies meeting in Delhi this week, to take responsibility and commit to reaching net zero emissions as close as possible to 2040.
Secondly, he called for “climate justice” to reach goals on renewable and affordable energy, particularly in Africa. This means operationalizing the agreed loss and damage fund, universal early warning systems, and a “course correction in the global financial system.”
‘World leader in renewable energy’
Third, Africa is rich in untapped renewable energy with the potential to become a world leader in renewables and “green growth.”
It has nearly a third of the world’s mineral reserves for solar power, electric vehicles and battery storage.
“To truly benefit all Africans, the production and trade of these critical minerals must be sustainable, transparent and just across every link of the supply chain”.
The UN chief pointed to the Greater Horn region where over 85 per cent of electricity comes from renewables. Mozambique gets nearly all its energy from green and sustainable resources.
And wind and solar projects are already helping power Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and South Sudan.
He called for a collective effort to create “a true” African Renewable Energy Alliance.
“Renewable energy could be the African miracle but we must make it happen. We must all work together for Africa to become a renewable energy superpower.”
Mr. Guterres told the conference of African leaders and stakeholders hosted by Kenya and the African Union Commission that he was convinced the continent “can be at the heart of a renewable future.”
He said now was the time for all nations “to stand as one in defence of our only home. Let’s deliver the climate justice that Africans, the world, and the planet we share, demand and deserve.”
Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi after his speech, the Secretary-General said it was time to end the injustices that are holding the continent back. He pledged to work closely with African leaders and organizations such as the AU, to accelerate progress.
WP: Drop in energy needs points to a further deterioration in industrial activity in Europe
Europe has an even stronger ally to keep gas prices under check heading into the colder months: extremely weak demand. The manufacturing crisis that’s plaguing the continent — industrial activity in Germany has contracted for 14 consecutive months — is the best antidote against a gas supply squeeze. With friends like that, who needs enemies? – asks ‘The Washington Post’.
Europe is defeating its energy crisis thanks to the impact that said crisis has had on its industrial heartland. Across the continent, many energy-intensive companies have either closed or reduced production after not being able to cope with higher energy prices. The fertilizer, chemical, metallurgic, glass, paper and ceramic industries are particularly affected. All those shuttered factories don’t need gas or electricity now.
In Germany, activity among energy-intensive companies plunged in June by nearly 18% versus late 2020, according to official data. During the same month, industrial gas demand also declined 18% compared with a year ago. In July, gas demand posted an even deeper plunge, falling 22.9% from a year earlier, the largest decline so far in 2023. When official industrial production data is released for July in a few weeks, that drop in energy needs points to a further deterioration in industrial activity.
Due to anemic manufacturing activity and lower-than-expected gas-burn in the electricity sector, Morgan Stanley reckons that total gas demand in Europe is running about 15% below the five-year average, even when adjusted by the impact of the weather. With consumption low and LNG supply so far plentiful, Europe has been able to inject a record amount of gas into underground storage over the spring and summer — despite most countries in the region no longer having access to Russian pipeline gas supply.
European gas stocks are nearly 92% full — a record high for this time of the year. If the current injection pace continues, inventories would reach 100% by mid-September.
And yet, it would be of little solace for the continent’s industrialists. Currently, European gas prices are running at about €35 ($38) per megawatt hour, compared with the 2010-2020 average of just over €20. Wholesale electricity prices are running above €140 per megawatt hour, more than triple the 2010-2020 average of €38.5.
The real problem is that companies know that any supply issue, real or perceived, would trigger a price rally, because even with nearly full stockpiles, Europe needs all the gas it can grab to make it through the winter. The manufacturing sector remains the go-to segment of consumption to find extra demand destruction. Hence, why so many chief executive officers are reluctant to bring back production capacity, fearing reactivating a plant only to get caught again by higher prices.
As such, the price of avoiding the energy crisis is a deep recession in the manufacturing sector, and a long-term loss of economic growth.
German businesses are increasingly curbing investments and eyeing production abroad amid high energy prices at home, informs Bloomberg.
Over half of surveyed companies say the energy transition is having negative or very negative effects on their competitiveness, according to a report by the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Among manufacturers, almost a third are considering or already executing a production shift abroad — twice as much as during last year’s energy crisis.
“The German economy’s confidence in energy policy has fallen to a low point,” the group’s chairman Achim Dercks said. “Concerns about competitiveness have never been greater.”
Germany’s manufacturing-heavy economy has seen a protracted period of weakness that shows few signs of abating amid plunging business confidence, and it’s the only major European nation whose output is forecast to shrink this year. While manufacturers used to enjoy relatively cheap power costs when Germany was still receiving pipeline gas from Russia, last year’s crisis forced the country to revamp its plan for future supplies. Its energy prices are currently among the highest in Europe.
While the expansion of renewable energy sources is expected to eventually bring costs down, they are likely to remain elevated until at least 2027, according to the government. Among large industrial companies — who often already have links to production abroad — one in four have already started or completed further capacity movements.
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