Europe may be after an unusually warm winter of 2022-2023 win your energy battle with Russia, but a permanent solution for energy-hungry Europe has not yet arrived. Although Europe’s ad-hoc responses to the Russian embargo have succeeded in changing one of the cornerstones of its economy, they are neither systematic nor sustainable.
American LNG, which has largely replaced Russian LNG, is more expensive import while political appetite for outages such as coal (which was imported from Africa in moderation 582% compared to the pre-war level) is shrinking rapidly.
This is why the CEO of the Italian energy giant ENI, Claudio Descalzi, called on ka south-north energy axis between Europe and Africa. Africa’s vast energy potential and reserves also resonate with French President Emmanuel Macron claim that “we live at the end of what may have seemed like an era of plenty” to refer, among other things, to the ongoing European energy crisis. With EU-Russia energy distribution Firmly established, the former needs a reliable energy relationship with the continent. The African continent boasts both large reserves of oil and natural gas (the latter are estimated at approx 17 trillion cubic meters) as well as huge capacities for installing solar and wind energy systems.
Descalzi’s push for an energy link between the EU and Africa represents a dramatic expansion of ongoing arrangements between the two continents. Thanks to strong economic and political-diplomatic ties, EU members and some African countries have had strategic energy partnerships for many decades. In particular, the states of North Africa are part of the EU neighborhood policy in the southern Mediterranean and in Union for the Mediterranean. African and European heads of state launched Energy partnership between Africa and the EU (AEEP) under the joint Africa-EU strategy in 2007 and should be renewed and strengthened. Individual bilateral relations between African states and EU member states have also been active for decades and are accelerating, with each continent’s two largest economies (Nigeria and Germany) deepening their cooperation in 2022.
Despite these relationships, Africa remains an underutilized energy market for the EU. This is largely due to the difficult political paradox in which Europe has found itself. The EU is interested in strengthening economic and energy partnerships with Africa, but these often require long-term commitments to develop and financially sustain such agreements. This is contrary to existing commitments to the green transition, which considers all hydrocarbons as “bridging fuels”, thereby discouraging any long-term relationships. These, combined with traditional investor fears and stereotypes of Africa, are holding back what could be a lucrative win-win partnership.
The opportunities for energy partnerships between the EU and Africa are huge. North Africa has huge potential for renewable energy, especially solar and wind energy. Electrical networks Morocco and Spain are already connected. Solar energy is already being exported to Europe. Egypt and Greece are planning to build a massive 3000 MW marine electrical interconnection a line through Cyprus and Greece to transport electricity produced in solar or wind farms. The TuNur and Elmed in Tunisia intend to supply clean electricity to Europe via Italy with a final TuNur investment decision in 2024. Namibia and Nigeria increased imports uranium can power Eastern Europe increase in nuclear power.
Africa is also taking the lead in hydrogen energy production, seeking to use hydrogen as a local force multiplier for its widely available and dispersed energy resources. Green hydrogen, projects, although in the early stages, are intended to increase energy efficiency and environmental and financial sustainability in the six members of the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance (Egypt, Kenya, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia and South Africa). Their success remains to be seen.
It would be the crown jewel of any future EU-Africa energy relationship Trans-Saharan gas pipeline. Linking the Mediterranean Sea with hydrocarbon-rich Niger and Nigeria across the Sahara desert via Algeria, this 30 billion m3 gas pipeline would strengthen EU-Africa relations. This would allow cheaper gas transported through new pipelines across the continent. If the EU can overcome the initial political, financial and technical hurdles, the prospects of relying on more democratizing (albeit sometimes unstable) African states are much better than relying on Russia, Qatar or the current expensive LNG arrangements.
The success of energy cooperation between the EU and Africa is conditioned by the political choices and attitudes that both continents adapt to each other. European green evangelism usually appears to be very patronizing. It is easy to preach green absolutism after you have already developed and destroyed many environments in the past and now enjoy life of abundance in a Western post-industrial society. It’s much harder to stomach if you live in energy poverty and need to evolve from absolute deprivation. For example, in September 2022 political leaders in Uganda and Tanzania he responded furiously to the European Parliament, which called for “ending mining activities in protected and sensitive ecosystems, including the shores of Lake Albert” (which forms part of the planned East Africa pipeline). This has been interpreted by some as a form of neo-colonialism and imperialism against countries’ sovereignty at worst, and as a foolish demand that would contribute to their continued poverty at best. This tension also appeared in projects such as Global Gateway Africa – Europe Investment Packagethrough which Europe wants to invest 150 billion euros in accelerating green transition projects in Africa.
However, the EU’s green energy and low-carbon development strategies and ambitions must take into account the need for African countries to fight their way out of energy poverty, pursue economic development while selling hydrocarbons without sufficient investment to build resilient domestic renewable energy sectors. The EU could turn the current scarcity of hydrocarbons and the green transition into a social and economic opportunity beyond Europe’s borders and develop renewables, uranium and hydrocarbons in Africa to benefit both continents.