A new concept of energy security is emerging as the world shifts to clean energy sources. Renewable energy and smart interconnections will increase energy independence as countries move away from fossil fuels. A leadership model based on knowledge – rather than commodities –is assuming a central role. This makes clean energy more accessible for all. Climate security is also favoured by the transition, which helps lower emissions and reduce climate impacts.
Africa is endowed with abundant renewable energies. The continent has the world’s richest solar resources due to its high irradiation. It also benefits from crucial wind potential – especially in North and East Africa – and hydropower, which currently make up two of its main renewable sources due to its major river basins. Moreover, geothermal resources can be found throughout Africa, although the bulk of the potential is concentrated in the East Africa Rift System.
If sub-Saharan Africa followed the same model of economic development as the rest of the world, focused on the growth of carbon intensive industries, cities and infrastructures, it would seal the planet's climate future. Africa’s emissions today are among the lowest per capita in the world: 0.8 tons/capita.
As the world scrambles to avert climate disaster, momentum towards a green energy transition is growing. Countries that have relied on fossil fuels to power their homes and economies for more than a century are investing in a new kind of future: one where access to clean technologies gives an economic advantage to those that deploy them first. Build back better – or build back greener – is about changing the paradigm in a world that is already disrupted.
In the early ages of hydrocarbons, when the oil companies discovered gas, they quickly abandoned the wells and moved the drilling rigs to other areas, looking for the most valuable crude oil. In those days, gas was considered as the poor relative of the fossil fuel family.
The European Commission published its “European Green Energy Deal (EGD)” in December 2019 with the aim of reducing its CO2-emissions by 50-55 percent (instead of its previous goal of 40%) by 2030. The 27 EU member states have agreed to the EGD, a new climate law (codifying the new emission goal for 2030) and its “next generation fund”, which includes a €750bn economic recovery programme in the wake of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic .
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, energy has been at the centre of the international political and economic history of the globe. For nearly a century now, access to oil and natural gas has been at the heart of the geopolitics of energy, but with renewable energies and related technologies set to increasingly dominate energy supply systems, relations between states will change, while economies and societies will undergo profound structural transformations.
As the world progressively recognizes the need for “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, renewed interest for hydrogen is surging. This need was implicit in the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention’s ultimate objective, which calls for the stabilization of GHG atmospheric concentrations, though no agenda —and hence no standards— were set. The Paris Accord, by setting the target to limit the global temperature change to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and striving to limit it to 1.5°C, has filled this void.
China is widely recognised as a global leader in clean-energy technologies, controlling over 60 percent of global manufacturing in every step of the solar supply chain and being home to five of the world’s top 10 wind turbine manufacturers. It leads the world in lithium-ion batteries, bio-power, hydropower, solar water heating, and geothermal heat output.
Hydrogen has drawn great enthusiasm in both the public and private sector, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. Governments and companies have announced numerous ambitious hydrogen plans. Hydrogen is indeed considered to be a useful tool to achieve both national climate targets (especially in hard-to-abate sectors) and a key driver for the economic recovery.
Hydrogen has been identified as one of the sources that could facilitate the decarbonisation due to its ability to store and supply large quantities of energy without creating CO2 emissions during combustion. In particular, hydrogen can play a decisive role in the decarbonisation of energy-intensive industries, including the air and maritime transport sectors as well as the steel and chemicals industries.
The Paris Agreement (PA) sets an ambitious objective of limiting the global temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with the intention to limit it at 1.5°C. Achieving these targets requires a massive decarbonization of the world economy, which still heavily relies on polluting fossil fuels. Despite 30 years of negotiations under the United Nations – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed on in 1992 -, global energy related CO2 emissions have increased since then by over 50% (IEA, 2021).