Africa’s Vast Solar and Mineral Resources at Risk of Being Left Untapped, IEA Warns - Kanebridge News
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Africa’s Vast Solar and Mineral Resources at Risk of Being Left Untapped, IEA Warns

High costs have put off most investors from buying into the continent’s plentiful clean-energy reserves

Mon, Sep 11, 2023 10:29amGrey Clock 3 min

Energy investment in Africa needs to more than double by the end of the decade if the continent is to meet its energy and climate goals. However, high costs are putting off much-needed investment in the region’s plentiful clean-energy resources and huge reserves of critical minerals, the International Energy Agency said.

“African countries have huge energy potential, including a spectacular range and quality of renewable-energy resources,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the Paris-based agency in a report published jointly with the African Development Bank on Wednesday. “But these riches are largely untapped and they will remain so without greatly improved access to capital.”

Africa is home to more than half of the world’s best solar resources as well as possessing great potential for hydroelectric and wind-power projects, according to the IEA. It is also uniquely placed to contribute to industries behind the transition away from fossil fuels. It accounts for 80% of the world’s platinum reserves, half of all cobalt reserves, and 40% of manganese reserves, all of which are expected to be crucial to technologies such as autocatalysts and electric batteries, the agency said.

The report’s figures also pose a challenge for the West and the U.S. in particular, which is seeking to secure diverse sources of critical materials. In recent years, the West has lost clout in Africa as China has become the continent’s largest trading partner and fourth largest investor. Much of China’s investment in Africa goes toward energy projects and the nation’s lead in renewable technologies will likely see it grow as a funder of African renewable energy projects, the IEA said.

“Energy investment on our continent has fallen short,” wrote William Ruto, president of Kenya, in the report’s foreword. “It is imperative we take bold steps to more than double energy investment here in the next decade, with a primary focus on clean energy.”

From around $90 billion today, annual spending on Africa’s energy needs must more than double to $200 billion by 2030, two-thirds of which will need to go toward clean energy projects, the report said.

Despite the investment goal—which the IEA says will allow African nations to meet their agreed climate targets as laid out in the Paris Agreement and achieve universal access to modern energy systems—energy spending in Africa has been falling over the past five years as investment in fossil fuels has declined and spending on renewable energy projects has flatlined. The continent makes up just 3% of global energy spending.

The indebtedness of many African nations is holding back public spending on energy projects while private investors are reluctant to invest because of a prevalence of fragile states, absent regulations and perceptions of political or reputational risks.

All of these are pushing up the cost of capital which makes many African energy projects financially unviable despite ample local resources and proven technologies such as wind or solar power, the report said.

The cost of capital for a large-scale renewable energy project in Africa is up to three times higher than in advanced economies and China, the IEA said. For smaller projects, which will be crucial in rural areas, the costs are even higher.

Concessional financing—in which lenders such as international development banks offer developing nations more generous terms such as lower interest rates or longer repayment periods—will be crucial to overcoming those obstacles, the IEA said.

The IEA estimates that only half of electricity grid projects in Africa are commercially viable without such assistance, while most clean cooking projects would be unaffordable.

Despite accounting for 20% of the global population, investment in African energy projects is far too small, leaving much of the continent lacking basic access to electricity or clean cooking fuels, the IEA said.

Currently, 600 million people across Africa lack access to electricity and almost one billion have no access to clean cooking fuels.

$25 billion a year alone would be enough to provide basic access to electricity and clean cooking fuels to all Africans, equivalent to the cost of installing one LNG terminal, something European nations have done in record time following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The report came as African leaders met in Nairobi for the third and final day of the Africa Climate Summit, which has seen calls for debt relief for African nations facing the effects of climate change and hundreds of millions of dollars pledged to Africa’s nascent carbon credits initiative.

African nations are seeking redress for the effects of climate change they experience despite contributing little to carbon emissions, the main driver of global warming. The continent accounts for around 2% to 3% of global carbon emissions but is particularly exposed to extreme weather.


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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”