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Getting power to the people of Africa

'18-OCT-04 09:00'

Thulani Gcabashe, chief executive of Eskom Holdings Ltd, urged leaders to not only have ideas around how to prosper Africa, but to act on those ideas in practical ways that yield results.

Gcabashe was talking at the Eskom African Business Leaders Forum held in Johannesburg, and focused on leadership challenges and opportunities in Africa’s energy sector. Gcabashe highlighted the role of energy in producing prosperity for Africa, and said one of the most urgent challenges facing developing and transition economies is the supply of adequate, reliable and competitively priced electricity on a sustainable basis.

Gcabashe said that only 15% of Africa’s population had access to electricity and much of the available supply was unreliable.

By 2030, he said, Africa will require an additional 60 000 megawatts to satisfy its growing energy needs.

Gcabashe believes the African electricity sector faced four major challenges. The first was ensuring the security of energy supply to the continent. The second was dealing with the existing uneven access to modern energy and in particular access to electrical power. Thirdly, Gcabashe said the sector faced the challenge of reducing the threat of environmental damage caused by energy use, and finally, it had to successfully attract the requisite investment in the electricity supply infrastructure of the continent.

Gcabashe said Eskom believed in a collective continental response involving all stakeholders. He said a number of initiatives were already underway to address these challenges. Among these were private public partnerships and a dedicated Nepad team within Eskom to facilitate the mobilization of Eskom’s resources to promote, develop and implement Nepad-related projects in the energy and particularly the power sector.

He also discussed the role of the Union of Producers, Transmitters and Distributors of Electrical Energy in Africa (UPDEA), which works with the African Union to ensure the delivery of electricity as a basic service fundamental to the well-being of people in Africa. Through UPDEA, of which Gcabashe is president, Nepad’s vision of creating a Pan-African power grid is fast becoming a reality, he said.

Gcabashe said the SADC region was leading the continental drive to bridge the gap created by the uneven supply of electrical power through the South African Power Pool (SAPP).

In conjunction with the planned Central Power Pool and Eastern Power Pool, the SAPP is part of a plan to create an electricity grid that spans the continent’s length and breadth.

“African power utilities have very little choice but to rise up to the challenges ahead,” Gcabashe said. “The need to develop an African response owned by the full spectrum of stakeholders including African governments and the private sector is no longer negotiable. The success of the mining, manufacturing and telecommunications sectors, as well as social sectors such as health and education, relies heavily on the power sector to deliver their business objectives. This calls for a visionary and insightful leadership.

We need to elevate the manner in which we do business beyond geographical boundaries. I believe that the potential of an economically integrated Africa is huge. The one thing we should prioritize is the leadership commitment required to tap this vast reservoir of opportunities,” he concluded.