Projects to boost Africa’s insufficient electrical supplies with renewable energy technologies rely on transport and logistics services as critical partners.
Strong growth of African economies over the past decade has fueled surging regional business activity and the emergence of a vast consumer middle class. Those combined energy demands have swamped the capacities of national utilities. In response, African governments and private businesses have introduced hundreds of renewable energy projects as economic and environmental priorities. Central to those are freight forwarding and logistic service providers, whose ability to manage myriad complicating factors involved can determine the difference between success and failure.
Though situations differ greatly by country, Africa’s power capacity generally pales in the face of demand – particularly in the continent’s sub-Saharan portion. It’s estimated 600 million Africans – one of two – don’t have regular access to electricity. In countries like Tanzania, the national 25% average coverage drops to 15% in most rural areas. Even states with highly developed economies and infrastructures like South Africa currently suffer from regular power shortages that darken households and incapacitate businesses.
To remedy those penalizing deficits, African countries are embracing renewable energy sources as fast, efficient and environmentally sound alternatives to reinforcing heavy infrastructure traditionally used to generate power from oil and coal.
“In transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energies, Africa is leapfrogging the intermediary nuclear step that Europe, the U.S. and much of Asia took,” says Pierre-Yvan Gravière, head of the power sector for Bolloré Logistics, whose wide range of freight forwarding activities in Africa include renewable energies logistics.
“The potential of renewables in Africa is enormous -- from wind and geothermal in Ethiopia to solar in Senegal,” he adds. “The rivers of the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone have the estimated capacity to generate enough hydroelectric power for the entire continent.”
All African countries are developing renewable energy sources – some within the World Bank-backed Scaling Solar initiative to utilize the continent’s gigantic solar potential. Also active, says Mr. Gravière, are Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, Kenya, Senegal and Ethiopia, with projects ranging from wind, hydro-electric and geothermal sources.
International Energy Agency estimates indicate renewable technologies receive 60% of all current global energy investment. Limited funding has kept Africa’s level of renewable spending a bit lower. But Mr. Gravière expects it to rise to and perhaps surpass the worldwide average as efforts to meet power demand increase.
Financing, however, isn’t the only hurdle in Africa’s renewable energy challenge.
Whether projects involve constructing dams or erecting windmill farms, virtually all materials involved are imported from Asia, Europe or North America via multimodal transport. Those often enormous components must then be offloaded from African ports capable of handling oversized cargo. They are subsequently transported as road freight, frequently to remote sites. In doing so, trucks must navigate inhospitable roads and inhabited areas where – when necessary – infrastructure is temporarily modified to allow passage.
In its work on the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project (LTWP) in Kenya, for example, Mr. Gravière says Bolloré Logistics oversees transportation of 365 windmills from Mombasa to the project site 1,200 km. east. To date, around 70 units have been safely delivered. An upcoming venture in Ghana will require road freight service for an over 60-meter long windmill, he adds.
Mr. Gravière says the company is involved in renewable energies logistics for over 100 projects launched or completed in Africa, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s giant Inga Dam – the world’s second largest behind China’s Three Gorges. It’s also working on Morocco’s Tarfaya wind farm, which along with Kenya’s Lake Turkana represent Africa’s two biggest wind energy projects.
“These are critical ventures for clients, because renewable energy production is essential to meeting demands and improving lives in African societies,” Mr. Gravière says, stressing the importance of end-to-end logistics services. “We use all the people and infrastructure assets of our African network to ensure these projects are completed successfully, and on time.”