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Africa's energy transition will rely heavily on gas: officials


Energy access key for Africa's development, gas should not be demonized

40% of global new gas discoveries in last decade have been in Africa

Viability of African gas projects increases due to Russia-Ukraine war

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  • Eklavya Gupte
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  • Manish Parashar
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Without natural gas, Africa will be unable to experience a "just" and "stable" energy transition. This means oil and gas project remain integral to the continent due to issues of energy poverty and energy access, energy officials at the Africa Oil Week conference said Oct. 3.

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Amani Abou-Zeid, commissioner for infrastructure and energy of the African Union Commission, said the energy transition currently looks different in Africa compared to other parts of the world, underlying the importance of oil and gas to the continent.

"Access to energy is a bigger issue here rather than the energy transition," Abou-Zeid said, speaking at the event. "We cannot ignore any source of energy, but we do need to keep improving the energy mix and making it cleaner."

Zeid said 55 African countries account for only 4% of the world's total emissions but they are being asked to implement the same energy transition policies while most countries have low access to electricity.

This is why African countries cannot be to bound to the same net-zero targets of other countries, she added.

Nigeria has committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 in line with fellow oil producers and OPEC members Saudi Arabia and UAE. But a bulk of Western countries have committed to achieving net-zero by 2050.

These comments were echoed by South Africa's minister of energy and mineral resources, who stressed that energy poverty cannot be separated from clean energy

Gwede Mantashe, speaking at the same event, said sectors like oil, gas and even coal are an energy poverty and community-focused issue.

"If you stop coal mining in some parts of South Africa it will kill the area and create ghost towns," he said.

Africa's gas future

Officials said Africa is already feeling the impacts of climate change but due to energy access and energy poverty issues it has to rely heavily on gas for a "stable" and "just" energy transition.

This is why gas has to be embraced as a transitional fuel and financing for gas project should not be demonized, they added.

Henri-Max Ndong-Nzue, senior vice president at TotalEnergies' African division, said gas will "definitely the main energy [source] of the transition," as it will displace coal for power generation in many parts of Africa and also globally.

Rashid Abdallah, the executive director of the African Energy Commission, said the gas potential in Africa is huge, with around 40% of global new gas discoveries in the last decade found in Africa.

Many financial institutions have come under pressure to reduce their funding for oil and gas businesses because of the large carbon footprint of such projects.

African oil and gas investment had taken a big hit in the past few years, exacerbated by the pandemic and the energy transition away from oil and gas.

But there are some signs that since COP27 in Glasgow last year, many in the industry were reframing their positions on gas. And, with Russia's war in Ukraine, Europe's approach to new gas projects has somewhat changed.

Many European countries are now not getting any gas from Russia, which used to be its largest energy supplier. They have had to look elsewhere, and are now relying on gas from countries in the Middle East and Africa.

In July, the EU voted to term some nuclear energy and gas projects as sustainable and climate friendly, as the region has been forced to wean itself off Russian fossils fuels.

Officials said all these factors bode well for upcoming African gas and LNG project, such as the Greater Tortue Ahmeyim LNG project in Senegal and Mauritania and Mozambique's Coral Sul LNG development.

A desire for non-Russian gas along with an increase in gas prices should help boost the commercial viability of a few African projects and provides a good opportunity for gas producers.

This might help Africa, which is expected to emerge as a major participant in gas markets as a producer, consumer and exporter in the coming decades.