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China Breakthroughs: Turning on the lights in Africa

Editor: 丁倩 丨CCTV.com

09-01-2017 17:47 BJT

By Tom McGregor, CCTV.com Panview commentator and editor

Africa stands as a continent rich in natural resources, a growing youthful population with plenty of economic opportunities. Yet, the sub-Saharan continent remains mired in darkness, since over 600 million Africans lack access to electricity.

The continent needs help turning on the lights to move forward on urbanization, industrialization and sustainable development to bring forward progress to all African communities.

(Visitors to the Zambia New Energy Agriculture Exhibition held in Lusaka August 2-7, 2017 by Chinese photovoltaic energy products  Photo from China.org.cn)

Africans deserve higher standards of living and boosting the power grid and connecting regional electricity networks can lead to a more prosperous domestic manufacturing base.

Additionally, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to offer over US$60bn. in Chinese investments to Africa in South-South Cooperation when he delivered a keynote address at the 2015 Forum of China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Innovative solutions for power

According to ChinAfrica magazine, Xi announced green development projects to enhance Africa's low-carbon and sustainable development at FOCAC. 100 projects were introduced to support clean energy, wildlife protections, eco-agriculture and smart city construction.

The projects can spark an electricity boom by leveraging solar, biogas and hydropower and revamping regional power grids.

"Africa has abundant renewable energy resources, which can play a major role in resolving its energy shortages," said Liu Zhenya, chairman of Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization.

Liu added, "Africa's energy industry has great potential as the continent accounts for 10 percent, 32 percent and 40 percent of global hydropower, wind power and solar energy reserves, respectively."

Plans are underway for Chinese investors to build a so-called, "electricity transmission expressway" in Ethiopia that is expected to expand throughout East Africa.

Pouring into hydropower

Chinese-invested hydropower projects have accounted for 30 percent of all new power plants constructed in Africa for the decade. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is recognized as the "Water Tower" of East Africa, but may soon become the "Electric Tower" for its neighboring countries.

China-based Dongfang Electric Corporation Limited (DEC Ltd.) supplies mechanical and electrical equipment for construction of Ethiopia's Gibe III Dam that would generate 6 billion kWh annually, doubling the country's installed capacity.

"It will give us the possibility of having more reliable power for domestic and industrial purposes and in the near future," Eugenio Zoppis, project manager of Gibe III Dam, told ChinAfrica. "It will enable interconnections with the power grids of Ethiopia and Kenya."

The dam provides power for Ethiopian households and reduces the number of power outages that occur in the capital city - Addis Adaba.

Recharging the transmission path

"We have worked with Chinese companies to build hydropower stations and power transmission networks and now we have a steady supply of electricity, greatly enhancing our competitiveness," said Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia's Minister of Water, Irrigation and Electricity.

China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co. Ltd. (CET), a subsidiary of the State Grid Corporation of China, has set records in East Africa, which include forming the largest transmission path, highest voltage levels and greatest output capacity.

Energy interconnections are the golden key for development in East Africa. In prior year, only big cities had access to electricity, but with more power plants and stronger grid networks, an increasing number of Africans can light up their homes.

It's also believed that tapping into renewable in Africa could generate 3.3bn. MWH by 2050 and reduce carbon emissions by 2.8bn metric tons annually.

Generating more with green

"Through extensive development of clean energy and construction of large-scale power grids, Africa's energy penetration will be upgraded to fundamentally address the problem of the lack of electricity, while boosting cleaner development."

Sounds wonderful, but can green energy really be reliable and affordable for all Africans? That remains to be seen, but Chinese investors are supporting innovations and pouring in capital to make such efforts succeed.

China's South-South Cooperation, along with the Belt & Road Initiative are likely to play pivotal roles in Africa's green electrification projects.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a report in July 2016 disclosing that between 2010 and 2015, China's state-owned enterprises had invested over US13bn. on Africa’s renewable sector.

Chinese firms are also laying the groundwork to train young Africans in the technical fields so local communities can keep power plants running for today and the long-term future.

Africa, the next Asia?

Africa appears poised to lead a revival in the emerging markets within a few decades from now. The stage is set for the sub-Saharan continent to enter an industrialization stage that will score big returns for businesses there.

However, African manufacturers cannot succeed if local factories cannot turn on the lights. China is making significant breakthroughs to provide sufficient energy resources for the continent.

"African countries have relied heavily on China to support the expansion of their electricity systems, to enable growth and improve living standards," said Paul Simons, IEA's deputy executive director.

And as Chinese companies help Africa expand the power grid, the world will benefit as well.

Tmcgregorchina@yahoo.com    

(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )

   

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