Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI)

AREI needs to speed up to secure support for an African energy transition

The Noor 1 solar thermal complex in Morocco is one of the projects Germany has registered under AREI. Source: Boris Schinke

In Africa, the energy access situation is still very concerning: About two thirds of the continent’s population does not have any access to electricity services. Half of the population still depends on biomass for cooking, such as charcoal and firewood. Not only are these energy sources highly inefficient, they also cause severe health problems through indoor air pollution. The urgency for reliable, clean and affordable energy solutions is even more pressing as energy needs and demands continue to grow across Africa. To date, fossil fuels dominate electricity generation and the transport sector. Electricity generation from renewable energy often focusses on large hydro power plants, with much of the continents’ sun, wind and small-hydro potential remaining untapped.

Since its creation in 2015, the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) recognized these potentials and sets a political signal to foster an African energy transition (through regional energy cooperation). AREI was created as an Africa-owned and Africa-led initiative, endorsing a people-centred approach to expand renewable energy on the continent. The initiative aims to achieve at least 10 gigawatts (GW) of new and additional renewable energy generation capacity by 2020, and at least 300 GW by 2030. Supportive international partners (mainly European Union, France and Germany) have pledged a financial support of USD 10 billion for this initiative during the period 2015-2020. Germany is the major bilateral donor with an amount of EUR 1.2 billion. Through multi-stakeholder engagement, the AREI aims to involve all relevant energy actors for a just transition. Civil society, academia, private sector and national as well as local authorities should be brought together through the AREI coordination work in the energy sector.

How AREI neglects civil society engagement

2019 is a crucial year for the initiative: it is the last year before the first phase of the AREI implementation closes (2020). This phase should see the implementation of concrete national energy policies and renewable energy projects across Africa.

Since the establishment of the Independent Delivery Unit (IDU) in summer 2018, AREI has an effective operationalization unit. The IDU conducted several board meetings and five regional consultations. Thus, while progress within AREI is clearly visible, implementation has been lacking so far. The AREI Board currently accepted 24 projects , but information on their status of implementation is not easily available. Actors of the energy sector such as civil society are still waiting for the start of these projects in their countries. Some other projects are still under discussion according to the recent AREI website, but still have to be officially evaluated and approved during the next board meetings.

Moreover, the inclusion of multiple stakeholders has been an issue as well. While the regional consultations in 2018 and early 2019 allowed for more local and concrete implementation debates, many countries were not represented and the participation of diverse actors (such as civil society) was not facilitated, except for East Africa. Adding to this, the last board meetings (February 2019 and an extraordinary session on 10th June 2019) were not communicated to the civil society and did not allow any external participation. At the moment, multi-stakeholder engagement within the AREI is not coherently applied even if it should be a key component of a people-centred approach to energy. To express the need of involving the civil society in the African energy debates and AREI processes, the African civil society, represented through ACSEA, sent a letter of concern to the IDU on 10th June 2019. This letter highlighted the different occasions at which AREI neglected to ensure a substantial participation from African civil society and to grant access to key documents and meetings.

Increasing multistakeholder engagement is key to AREI’s success

AREI thus still has work to do until next year in order to successfully close the first phase and ensure the engagement of multiple stakeholders, a concept that should be accepted by the board, the IDU, observers and donors like Germany who can ask for more stakeholder participation during the AREI meetings and board sessions.

For AREI to be an effective channel to accelerate progress on electricity access and scale up the implementation of renewable energy in Africa, these participation and transparency issues have to be resolved. This is especially crucial as current slow and non-transparent project implementation may also encourage the present donors to look for other cooperation possibilities on the African continent. This should not happen as AREI is currently the only Africa-owned and Africa-led energy initiative and is thereby a promising opportunity for regional energy cooperation on the continent.

Guest post by Ursula Hagen and Marine Pouget / Germanwatch