How China is transforming the power sector in sub-Saharan Africa

27 MAR 2018

In the past, it has been Europe and South-East Asia, which has attracted the international media headlines by announcing ambitious renewable energy targets and delivering major projects, but countries across sub-Saharan Africa are now undertaking their own energy transition.

Today more than 600 million people live without electricity across the sub-Saharan Africa and demand for electricity expected to more than triple by 2040. The region presents a huge market opportunity for the energy sector, with total power generation expected to quadruple to 385 GW during in the next twenty years.

Countries like China have recognised this potential and are already delivering major energy projects across the region, which is transforming the continent. China alone was responsible for 30% of new power in sub-Saharan Africa between 2010 and 2015, representing around USD $13 billion. By 2020, Chinese contractors will have delivered 17 gigawatts of new generation, equivalent to the total installed capacity of Finland.

Power plants and grids built by Chinese contractors in sub-Saharan Africa are having a direct impact on economic, social and environmental development across the region. Projects have allowed energy access and economic development, and renewable power plants built by Chinese firms are expediting Africa’s transition to lower CO2-emitting electricity systems by establishing relatively low-carbon electricity generation.

More than half of the energy projects that China has supported in the last decade have been renewable, with Chinese companies completing more than 20 dams since 2010, with around 20 more currently under construction. Chinese companies are also providing vital supply chains for wind and solar and working with regional leaders to deliver major projects.  

Energy projects are not limited to generation. China is also transforming the region’s power transmission and distribution networks, from cross-border transmission lines to local urban and rural distribution systems.  These projects have provided more than 120 million people in sub-Saharan Africa access to electricity.

Investing is Africa is a win-win for the continent and for China. Africa is benefiting from a reliable energy network, which is shifting away from fossil fuels, allowing the region to be less reliant on imports of oil and coal, while China is using Africa to diversify its investment portfolio.   

China is not the only country helping Africa undertake its energy transformation. The United Arab Emirates is the second-biggest foreign investor in Africa. UAE companies are constructing projects across the region, for example Masdar in cooperation with the Egyptian New and Renewable Energy Authority of Egypt has installed 10 megawatt solar photovoltaic (PV) power plant in Siwa. The project is the first utility-scale solar power installation in the Arab Republic of Egypt, powering 6,000 homes and accounting for 30% of the grid capacity of Siwa City and its adjoining areas.

Through the new “Belt and Road” initiative, China has the opportunity to develop strategic commercial hubs and partnerships with countries like the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which will unlock new markets across MENA. The energy projects that China and its partners invest in and construct will benefit hundreds of millions of people across Sub-Saharan Africa and the wider continent for generations to come.


09 AUG 2018

The energy drain in the cold economy

With populations growing, along with continued urbanisation and climate change, there is no question that we will need far more cooling. By 2050, according to the Green Cooling Initiative, there could be more than 9.5bn cooling appliances worldwide – more than 2.5 times today’s 3.6bn. Cooling, however, is energy intensive. Even with the development of more efficient cooling technologies and other more aggressive energy mitigation strategies, the cooling sector will, on current trajectory, increase its overall energy consumption by at least 90% to 7500TWh/year by 2050, up from 3900TWh in 2017.

However, that is only half the picture. Despite the significant growth in cooling equipment stock, much of the world will remains considerably under-served compared with the most advanced nations. Put another way, even with some 9.5 billion cooling appliances in use by 2050 this will not be sufficient to deliver universal access to cooling, let alone meet targets to reach the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Without ‘Cooling for All’, food and medicine loss in the supply chain will be high; food poisoning from lack of domestic temperature management will be significant; farmers will lack market connectivity, hundreds of millions of people will not have safe, let alone comfortable, living or working environments; medical centres will not have temperature-controlled services for post-natal care, etc.

We have a problem.

Effective refrigeration is essential to preserve food and medicine. It underpins industry and economic growth, is key to sustainable urbanisation as well as providing a ladder out of rural poverty. It increasingly makes much of the world bearable - or even safe - to live in. But the growth of artificial cooling will create massive demand for energy and, unless we can reduce our need for cooling and roll out solutions for clean and sustainable cooling provision, this will cause high levels of CO2e and pollution.

As an indication of the impact of widespread global access to cooling, at the University of Birmingham we have looked at scenarios where the world has “Cooling for All”. The number of cooling appliances rises to more than 14bn. Even assuming accelerated technology progress projections delivering aggressive energy performance improvements, the energy requirement still equates to 15,500 TWh which is approx. 2.5x the 6,300 TWh maximum sector allocation envisaged by the IEA 2 degrees scenario.

To achieve the required amount of cooling within the energy budget available would require us to double the efficiency of our cooling devices on average, in addition to the technology progress proposed currently. Alternatively to “green” this volume of electricity would require more than 50% of the total projected renewables capacity for all demands from transport to industry to our cities under the IEA’s 2°C Scenario.

The world must not solve a social crisis by creating an environmental catastrophe; we need to ensure access to affordable cooling with minimum environmental impact and maximum efficient use of natural and waste resources.

If cooling is to be sustainable, then we need more efficient air-conditioners and fridges, but this is not enough. We must also see a fundamental overhaul of the way cooling is provided.

The Cold Economy is the development of cohesive and integrated system-level strategies to mitigate and meet cooling needs sustainably within our climate change, natural resource and clean air targets, while supporting economy growth. 

This involves understanding the multiple cooling needs and the size and location of the thermal, waste and wrong-time energy resources to define the step-change novel energy vectors, thermal stores, clean cooling technologies and novel business models, policy and societal interventions to optimally integrate those resources and cooling needs through self-organising systems.

Core to this is using surplus cold and heat. For example, we should harness the cold energy of liquefied natural gas (LNG) along with industrial waste heat and low-grade geothermal energy. By 2025, we shall be throwing away $bns of waste cold from LNG alone, primarily into the sea.

To achieve the necessary step change, we need to start by asking ourselves a new question. No longer ‘how much green electricity do we need to generate?’ but rather ‘what is the service we require, and how can we provide it in the least damaging way?’

Given the urgency and magnitude of the challenge and the multi-partner and multi-disciplinary research and delivery mechanisms required, to lead this work we urge the establishment of a multi-disciplinary Centre of Excellence for Clean Cooling (CEfCC) to bring the global expertise together to research and develop the step-change pathways for achieving sustainable cooling while meeting social and economic cooling needs. 

By Toby Peters / Professor in Cold Economy, University of Birmingham, UK


09 AUG 2018

Beyond spreadsheets

Even within some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated companies, you find that teams responsible for sustainability reporting are often left out on a limb.

Where hundreds of thousands are spent on smart customer relationship and supply chain software, or advanced marketing analytics, it is still not uncommon to find global environmental data being crunched on a clunky old spreadsheet.

Better business intelligence enables better business decisions. However, most organisations do not track environmental data such as carbon emission or water use when looking at how to optimise business efficiency. 

In theory doing this should provide an excellent lens to look at overall efficiency across different locations and processes. This can highlight where equipment is not operating as expected, or inefficient procedures that result in energy or water waste. It also provides the evidence necessary to make a robust business case for investing into new or upgraded technologies.

But in practice, data on sustainability metrics is all too often lumped together once a year for the sake of annual reporting, which ends up being the sole purpose for its collection.

Part of the problem is that sustainability data can come from any area of the business, from different teams and in different formats. It can therefore be difficult to consolidate the data in a way that provides useful information across the organisation.

However, this is all starting to change. Companies are taking increasingly integrated approaches to data, finding ways to bring sustainability metrics into their wider evaluation of performance.

This shift is being unlocked by the same driving forces that are behind the rise of the Internet of Things: cheaper meters and sensors to collect information, alongside the ability to access and aggregate large quantities of data in smarter ways. It is getting easier and easier to combine disparate and disorganised pieces of information, to automate the cleaning of the data, and to report this in an organised fashion.

Software plays an important role in enabling effective decisions to be made using this data. Traditionally, bespoke sustainability software had to be developed, often over a long period of time. But the rise and improvement of all purpose Business Intelligence (BI) software has meant that organisations can now create highly tailored BI solutions, which in many cases are just as powerful and useful as many tailored sustainability software solutions. 

In fact, BI solutions can sometimes offer visualisations of data that have more impact and insight than traditional sustainability software. This is because sustainability teams have the ability to customise the outputs themselves, rather than always relying on software developers for every small change. 

Beyond this, BI solutions are supported by some of the world’s largest software companies, and can integrate with an organisation’s existing IT software license. The prime example of this is Microsoft’s suite of BI software. 

One example of putting this into practice is finding ways to improve approaches to employee business travel, which is often a large source of costs and carbon emissions. Standard BI software can connect directly to raw data on travel, refreshing whenever this is updated or new information is added. And this can all be done online, so it is immediately accessible.

The data collected can be readily displayed and broken down, so it can be visualised at multiple levels. For example, you can view emissions by time period, operating company, business units, teams, individuals, travel modes, class of ticket, or any combination of the aforementioned options.

By being able to look right down to specific departure airports and even individual employees, this allows companies to make smarter decisions about travel policies and ask the right questions that can result in substantial cost savings.

The same is true with vehicle telematics, especially larger vehicles, such as those used in construction and mining. With very large vehicles driver behaviour can make a huge difference to fuel costs for the same amount of work being done. These fuel costs can be higher than labour costs for the drivers, so the information can be used to create incentive schemes to improve behaviour, or as a way of targeting training programmes. 

There are even ways to use these advanced approaches to sustainability data to drive the growth of business units, so long as the right metrics and methodologies are applied. A number of ICT companies, such as BT and AT&T, are now working towards goals for how their products and services are enabling their customers to reduce carbon emissions in their own operations.

It is only through good measurement that sustainability issues can truly be managed effectively. The sooner that clunky old spreadsheets are put into retirement – whether through specialist sustainability software or BI solutions – the better the outcomes will be for the planet. 

Check out the online HTML CheatSheet here and save the link because you might need it while composing content for a web page.

By John Hsu / The Carbon Trust


29 MAR 2018

The future of sustainable mobility

The topic of sustainability cannot be discussed without addressing transport. It consumes about one third of the world’s energy yet uses a lower proportion from renewable sources than any other industry, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

As the world’s population increases and more people live in cities, passenger transport is forecast to more than double by 2050. As a result, carbon emissions from the sector could increase by 60%, the International Transport Forum has forecast.

To serve growing demand for transport sustainably, society must look at alternatives to the internal combustion engine, which has been the world’s dominant transport system since its invention in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Greener transport can mitigate climate change, reduce pollution and make the energy system more sustainable.

Here are some of the technologies and trends that are on track to disrupt our transport systems.

Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles represent one of the most important trends in sustainable mobility. They’re expected to see rapid growth – from around two million today to between 150 million and 400 million by 2030, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted.

By 2040, more than half (54%) of all new car sales will be electric, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Growth in consumer demand will come from a fall in the cost of electric batteries (which will help make most electric cars as cheap as cars with internal combustion engines by the end of the next decade, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance), improvements in performance, increased demand from customers and government support for clean energy.

The future for electric cars looks promising, but challenges remain. The biggest one is infrastructure. For instance, if hundreds of millions of petrol and diesel vehicles are to be replaced with electric ones, there will need to be a huge investment in charging stations (at homes, public locations and in businesses). 


Most electric cars run on powered by lithium-ion batteries, also used in laptops and mobile phones. It usually takes at least 30 minutes, but often hours, to charge an electric car. One alternative is hydrogen − fuel cells that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, heat, and water. It can recharge a car in a couple of minutes.

Hydrogen is receiving the backing of some of the world biggest automotive manufacturers including Toyota and Mercedes, which are developing cars that run on fuel-cells.

Some experts predict that hydrogen will play a major role in industry and public transport, where routes are predictable and re-fuelling stations are in close proximity.   

Car-sharing and the shared economy

The digital revolution has given rise to the “shared economy”, enabling consumers to rent out everything from homes to labour. Services like SnappCar and Turo, billed as the ‘Airbnb for cars‘, allow drivers to rent out their vehicles when they’re not in use. Car sharing services have enormous potential to reduce the number of cars on our roads. In Europe for example, the 250m cars across the continent are used on average only an hour a day.

For now, peer-to-peer car sharing is still very small. It’s a big cultural step for people to share their vehicles with strangers but the success of Airbnb has demonstrated that the sharing economy can disrupt traditional ways of working. For mobility, the shared economy could help improve air quality in urban environments particularly if consumers are sharing low-carbon vehicles. 

New types of transport 

Perhaps the most exciting new form of transport could be the “hyperloop” – a system that can transport passengers and cargo in pods at speeds of up 700 miles per hour using low-pressure tubes and magnetic levitation. The technology has the potential to be powered by solar, wind or forms of renewable generation.

In 2016, Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) agreed a deal with US start-up Hyperloop One (now Virgin Hyperloop One) to build a system between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which could reduce the 150 kilometre trip from 90 minutes to 12 minutes.

The RTA is also testing another new type of transport − a self-flying air taxi that carries two people and runs on electric batteries. The air taxi, made by German company, Volocopter, is currently undergoing test flights around the city.