The Covid-19 crisis has brought the international community to face its limits. We, in Europe as well as in many countries of the world, now know what a crisis of this scale represents, as it is the first one that most of us has had to deal with. We live in lockdown, and fortunately our condition in quarantine is mitigated by access to energy, which also enables us, in many cases, to carry on with our jobs. But while access to energy is a granted element of the everyday life in some parts of the world, it remains a mirage in others. 840 million people – 1 out of 7 – do not have access to electricity around the world; in Africa alone, nearly 600 million people do not have access to energy, and this number doesn’t include those served by an intermittent and unreliable service.
The lack of reliable electricity, even before the pandemic, was reducing the continent’s GDP growth by 2%. Now, responding to the pandemic and quickly recovering from its impact is being hindered by limited access to sustainable and reliable energy for public services, industries and households alike. The World Health Organization in 2014 (latest data available) estimated that one in four health facilities in sub-Saharan Africa had no access to electricity, while only 28% of health facilities and 34% of hospitals had not experienced prolonged interruptions in the previous week, and therefore had what can be defined as “reliable” access to electricity.
Access to reliable and sustainable energy is crucial at any given point in time, and has therefore been defined as the 7th Sustainable Development Goal that the United Nations intend to achieve by 2030. Energy represents an essential element to power health structures during the sanitary crisis; but access to reliable and sustainable energy will also be fundamental in the wake of the pandemic, as it will sustain industrial production, trade and essential services. Ensuring a continuous flow of electricity is therefore essential to keep strategic infrastructures running both during and after the crisis. Renewable energy can provide power for Africa’s industries at the lowest possible cost and the shortest amount of time-to-market compared to any other technology, and therefore represents the best solution for economic recovery and sustainable development.
As we reflect about how nations will reconstruct in post-Covid, we also think about what we can act upon to make this world a better place. The long-term vision laid out in the Green Deal and the new Strategy with Africa is certainly providing a framework and a path to speed up the achievement of clean, sustainable and qualitative economic growth and social advancement. The European Commission is continuing its relentless pursuit of green ambitions together with African partner countries and institutions. This can only be appreciated and commended.
Moreover, there is a growing momentum in Europe around the idea of tying recovery stimulus packages to the Green Deal’s initiatives, and of restarting economies with a strong focus on deploying renewable energies across all sectors. We believe that this logic needs to be extended to Africa, as this crisis is also opening opportunities for Europe’s aid and stimulus package to include and increase efforts and resources to expand renewable energy capabilities in the African continent. Initiatives such as renewAfrica can bring in achieving access to renewable energy at a transformative scale. The support that renewAfrica received, both in Africa and in Europe, after its launch less than a year ago confirmed that a real need for such an initiative exists.
With millions now confined to their homes, the crisis has reaffirmed electricity’s irreplaceable role in modern life. Far from being a luxury of mature electricity markets, renewables remain the least-cost road to sustained economic growth, and with the right investments they can come at a hand’s reach of any African country, boosting economies in the aftermath of the sanitary crisis. It is therefore clear that renewable energy represents, now more than ever, a solution to the response to the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the issue of climate breakdown. At renewAfrica, along with its Secretariat housed in the RES4Africa Foundation, we will continue to play our role in keeping the renewables development at the top of the EU and Africa agendas.