Energy Transition for Emerging Mobility Models in Africa

Energy Transition for Emerging Mobility Models in Africa

Africa is home to 1.5 billion people, growing at 2.4%, with an urbanization rate of 42%. Recent forecast shows that by the year 2050, Africa will have 25% (circa 2.5billion people) of the global population and the fastest urban growth rate globally. Africa’s urban transition offers great opportunities, but it also poses significant challenges. One of such challenges is the need for cheaper, cleaner, reliable, and more sustainable energy alternatives for homes, manufacturing sector and mobility. The mobility needs of 1.5 billion Africans (2.5billion by 2050) are indeed enormous. But why should Africa bother about clean energy for its transportation needs when the continent accounts for the lowest (3%) energy-related CO2 emissions globally? The recent post-Covid global energy crisis has shown how overdependence on hydrocarbons hurts countries’ energy systems, markets, and economies, and highlights the benefits of an accelerated scale-up of cheaper and cleaner sources of energy.

Energy market landscape in Africa

Africa’s rich natural resources are not limited to hydrocarbons, sunshine, and other energy sources. Africa has abundant renewable energy resources (Solar PV: 1,449,742 TWh/y, Wind: 978,066 TWh/y, Hydropower: 1,478 TWh/y, etc.) but these remain significantly under-exploited. Minerals such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel are crucial for clean energy technologies globally and found in abundance in parts of Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Despite Africa being rich in renewable resources, we still depend heavily on hydrocarbon to power urban mobility/transportation needs.

Renewables account for only 2% of energy demand in Africa, whilst oil, natural gas, coal and biomass account for 23%, 16%, 13% and 45% respectively. Across most African cities, cars, motorcycles, light trucks, and boats are primarily powered by gasoline, whilst diesel fuel is used by trucks, buses, trains and in boats and ships. Similarly, aviation gasoline and jet fuel are used in many types of airplanes and helicopters even as natural gas and propane are now increasingly used for some cars, buses, trucks, and ships. The continued dependence on hydrocarbons as primary energy source has implications for livelihoods of Africans, the continent’s economic growth path, urbanization challenges and her 2050 net-zero commitments.

Opportunities for energy transition in African transportation sector

The African transport sector is the second highest emitter of greenhouse (CO2)gases in the continent, responsible for an estimated 31% of the 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion released into the continent’s atmosphere in 2018. By choosing sustainable energy sources for transportation purposes, African nations can not only protect the climate, but also create new jobs, engender significant sustainable economic growth, and reap the associated social and health benefits. Current estimates indicate that Africa has the potential to generate 1,000 times more renewable energy than it needs to meet its own future demand by 2040. Here are some key opportunities for energy transition in urban mobility across African cities.

  1. Electric mobility solutions: Governments can incentivize the transitioning of public transportation, such as buses and taxis, to electric vehicles (EVs), in addition to the development of charging infrastructure. Similarly, the use of electric bikes, scooters, and rickshaws for short-distance travel can help reduce the reliance on traditional, fuel-powered modes of transportation. Start-ups and entrepreneurs can play a crucial role in introducing and expanding these e-mobility solutions.
  2. Alternative fuels and energy sources: Exploring alternative fuels, such as biofuels and natural gas, for existing fleets can be a transitional step towards a cleaner urban transportation system. Governments can provide incentives for the adoption of these alternative fuels, reducing the carbon footprint of urban mobility. The transition to hydrogen fuel cell technology for buses and other mass transit vehicles offers a promising avenue for sustainable urban mobility. Hydrogen-powered vehicles emit only water vapor, providing a clean alternative to traditional combustion engines.
  3. Smart and sustainable infrastructure: Cities can invest in integrated transportation planning that prioritizes sustainable modes of transport, such as walking, cycling, and public transit. This not only reduces energy consumption but also addresses issues of congestion and promotes healthier lifestyles. Implementing smart traffic management systems can optimise traffic flow, reduce idling times, and enhance fuel efficiency. Advanced technologies, including sensors and real-time data analytics, can be deployed to improve overall urban mobility.
  4. Policy and regulatory support: Governments can introduce financial incentives and regulatory frameworks to promote the adoption of green and sustainable transportation options. This may include tax breaks, subsidies, and preferential treatment for environmentally friendly vehicles and infrastructure projects. Furthermore, implementing and enforcing strict emission standards for vehicles can accelerate the shift towards cleaner technologies. Regularly updating and enforcing these standards ensures that the urban mobility sector continues to reduce its environmental impact.

Energy Transition Roadmap for African Countries

How might African countries transition from hydrocarbons to clean energy alternatives as they strive to meet the mobility demands of rapid urbanization?

A starting point would be articulation of a comprehensive energy transition roadmap that is bespoke to each country’s energy economics, and involves a combination of strategic planning, policy implementation, infrastructure development, and stakeholder collaboration.  Breaking down the energy transition roadmap into short-term and long-term action steps helps provide a more practical and phased approach to the transition.

In the short-term, African leaders must conduct current state assessment and planning to determine market trends, resource availability, demand and supply dynamics, etc. Countries must identify priority areas for emission reduction and improved air quality and establish a working group for data collection and analysis. Similarly, policy framework must be designed to provide short-term incentives such as tax breaks for electric vehicle (EV) purchases, enforce immediate emission standards for new vehicles entering the market and lead public awareness campaigns about the benefits of sustainable transportation. Governments must also investment in EV charging infrastructure in the short term. This would entail the identification of key urban areas for initial deployment of EV charging stations, collaboration with private entities to accelerate the installation of charging infrastructure, and partnership with international organizations to raise funds for the initial phase of charging infrastructure development. Another area leaders must pay attention to in the short-term is the promotion of electric public transportation, including subsidies for public transportation operators to transition to electric fleets.

In the long term, energy transition policy must be strengthened to guide emission standards for broader range of vehicles, implement regulations that phase out the use of high-emission vehicles and develop a comprehensive policy framework for sustainable urban mobility. Leaders must also scale up the deployment of EV charging stations to cover a larger geographic area, whilst exploring innovative financing mechanisms, such as public-private partnerships, for sustained infrastructure development. Government must also collaborate with energy companies to ensure a reliable and sustainable power supply for charging stations. Research and development are crucial for sustainability and scale in the long-term. Therefore, government must partner with universities and research institutions, invest in local research and development for sustainable transportation technologies, and facilitate knowledge exchange with international organizations and research bodies.

Africa is presented with significant opportunities for energy transition. The recent COP28 was another opportunity for the continent to examine her net-zero commitments, introspect on the rights of African countries to exploit their natural resources sustainably and explore new collaborations towards protecting lives, livelihoods, and ecosystems on the continent. The transport sector accounts for an estimated 31% of annual fossil fuel related greenhouse gas emissions in the continent. The mobility needs of 1.5 billion Africans (2.5billion by 2050) are indeed enormous, hence the need for the continent to embark on gradual transition towards clean energy alternatives. The continent can capitalize on the following key strategies to foster sustainable change:

  • Adoption of electric mobility: Encourage the electrification of public transport, including buses, boats, and taxis, and support the introduction of electric bikes, scooters, and rickshaws for short-distance travel.
  • Smart and sustainable infrastructure: Invest in integrated transportation planning that prioritizes sustainable modes, such as walking, cycling, and public transit. Implement smart traffic management systems to optimize traffic flow and reduce fuel consumption.
  • Exploration of alternative fuels: Consider alternative fuels like biofuels, natural gas, and hydrogen fuel cells to reduce the carbon footprint of urban transportation.
  • Policy and regulatory support: Introduce incentives, tax breaks, and regulations that promote the adoption of green and sustainable transportation options. Enforce strict emission standards for vehicles to drive the transition towards cleaner technologies.
  • Public awareness and education: Raise awareness about the environmental impact of transportation choices and promote sustainable travel behaviour, encouraging a shift towards cleaner and more efficient urban mobility options.

By embracing these opportunities and implementing a comprehensive approach, African cities can not only address the challenges of urbanization but also pave the way for cleaner, more efficient, and accessible transportation systems, contributing to a sustainable and resilient future.

(This publication is an expert from a recent Verraki Report:  Energy Transition for Emerging Mobility Models in Africa; available here)

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