As Africa strides towards a sustainable energy future, the journey is necessarily gradual, considering the continent’s current underdeveloped state. Transitioning abruptly to renewable energy is not practical for many African nations, making a combination of solutions essential for a just energy transition. Among these solutions, gas power emerges as a key player. It offers a lower-carbon alternative to coal and other traditional fossil fuels, bridging the gap while renewable energy infrastructure gains momentum. This blog explores why investing in gas power is crucial for Africa’s energy transition and how it can contribute to reducing harmful emissions without compromising the electricity supply.

While the main goal is to lower carbon emissions and create more sustainable power generation in Africa, the transition is gradual. It is not realistic, in an underdeveloped Africa, to switch to renewable energy all at once in a drastic manner. With that said, an investment to a combination of solutions for power generation is highly important for Africa to move forward towards a just energy transition.

For many investors, gas is the ideal option. It is not at carbon intense as coal or other traditionally used fossil fuels. By creating more renewables and gas power combined, there will be a significant reduction in harmful emissions while also not reducing the amount of energy available. Gas, while emitting less harmful gasses than the norm, will ensure that there is available electricity on demand while the renewable energy transition is gaining momentum.

Most African countries are completely dependent on coal for power. Thus, switching coal with gas will allow for a huge reduction in harmful emissions. This could be as high as a 50% reduction in harmful carbon emissions. Not only will this reduce carbon emissions, but the electricity grid will not be jeopardized.

There is many companies out there looking to invest in gas turbine technology, for example GE Vernova, who is a purpose-filled company with the goal to provide electricity for our planet while striving to decarbonize it. Gas turbines are a pivotal technology for achieving a near-zero carbon economy in the future, facilitated by advancements in hydrogen and carbon capture technologies. Although these solutions need further development to become more scalable and cost-effective, GE Vernova is actively investing in research and collaborations to accelerate this process. Currently, GE Vernova leads in experience with running gas turbines on hydrogen, boasting over 120 gas turbines worldwide that support power generation with hydrogen and related fuels. These turbines utilize combustion technologies capable of operating with hydrogen concentrations of up to nearly 100% by volume.

While these efforts are commendable, we must ensure that these technologies are accessible and affordable for African nations. The danger lies in the potential economic burden of expensive transitional technologies that might not be as cost-effective as directly investing in renewables. Furthermore, the global trend is moving towards renewables, and Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog traditional fossil fuel-based energy systems.

However, there is one important argument that we can not go without mentioning. Yes, while studies agree that gas aids in reducing harmful emissions in the short term, unintended negative long-term effects might arise, hindering the just energy transition. The main concern is that increasing investment in gas projects might take away from the investments that could have been for renewable energy projects. Especially in underdeveloped Africa, every investment counts and with limited infrastructure and money to support the just energy transition, are we able to sacrifice any of it for gas? How much can we afford to sacrifice for the bigger picture of a renewable energy Africa?

Some believe that investing heavily in gas power is a step backwards. Perhaps, the primary focus in Africa should be on scaling up renewable energy infrastructure. Africa has vast solar and wind resources that, if harnessed properly, could meet a significant portion of the continent’s energy needs without the carbon emissions associated with gas power. By diverting funds to gas, we risk locking ourselves into another fossil fuel dependency. Additionally, there’s the issue of methane leaks from natural gas production, which are potent greenhouse gases and could undermine our climate goals.

1. Reliable Energy Supply: Unlike renewable sources such as solar and wind, which are intermittent and dependent on weather conditions, gas power provides a stable and continuous energy supply. This reliability is crucial for maintaining the stability of the power grid, particularly in regions where energy infrastructure is underdeveloped.

2. Bridging Technology: Gas power serves as a transitional solution, enabling a gradual shift from high-carbon coal to low-carbon renewables. It acts as a bridge, supporting the energy needs while renewable infrastructure is being scaled up, preventing energy shortages and blackouts.

3. Significant Emissions Reduction: Switching from coal to gas can reduce carbon emissions by up to 50%. Gas turbines produce fewer harmful pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, compared to coal, leading to improved air quality and public health benefits.

4. Economic Viability: Gas infrastructure, while still a fossil fuel, requires less initial investment compared to the full deployment of renewable energy systems. It allows for the incremental development of the energy sector without the massive upfront costs associated with renewables.

5. Flexibility and Scalability: Gas turbines can quickly ramp up and down in response to demand fluctuations, complementing the variable output of renewable sources. This flexibility is essential for integrating more renewables into the grid without compromising reliability.

6. Advancements in Technology: Innovations in hydrogen and carbon capture technologies are making gas power increasingly cleaner. Companies like GE Vernova are pioneering these advancements, demonstrating the potential for gas turbines to operate with up to 100% hydrogen, significantly lowering carbon footprints.

7. Infrastructure Compatibility: Many African countries already have some level of gas infrastructure in place. Building on this existing infrastructure is more feasible and cost-effective than starting from scratch with entirely new renewable energy projects.

8. Energy Security: Gas power enhances energy security by diversifying the energy mix. Relying solely on renewables can be risky due to their intermittent nature. Gas provides a dependable backup, ensuring continuous energy availability even when renewable sources are not producing at full capacity.

9. Job Creation and Economic Growth: The gas sector can create numerous jobs, from construction and operation to maintenance and research. This economic activity can stimulate growth in local economies, providing much-needed employment opportunities and contributing to overall development.

10. Support for Industrialization: Many African countries are striving to industrialize, which requires a stable and substantial energy supply. Gas power can meet the high energy demands of industrial processes, supporting economic development while transitioning towards a renewable future.

1. Fossil Fuel Dependency: Investing in gas perpetuates reliance on fossil fuels, hindering the transition to a fully renewable energy system. This continued dependency can lock Africa into a cycle of fossil fuel use, delaying the adoption of cleaner alternatives.

2. Diverted Investments: Funds directed towards gas infrastructure are funds not invested in renewable energy projects. This diversion can slow down the development and deployment of solar, wind, and other renewable technologies, which are essential for a sustainable future.

3. Short-Term Solution: Gas power is often seen as a transitional technology, but relying on it may delay the urgent need to develop long-term, sustainable energy solutions. The focus should be on building resilient renewable energy systems rather than temporary fixes.

4. Renewable Energy Leapfrogging: Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog traditional fossil fuel-based energy systems by directly investing in renewable energy. Prioritizing gas over renewables misses this chance to lead the world in clean energy innovation. As the global energy market shifts towards renewables, gas infrastructure risks becoming obsolete. Investments in gas power plants and pipelines may become stranded assets, leading to economic losses, and wasted resources.

5. Economic Volatility: The global natural gas market is subject to price volatility, which can lead to economic instability. Renewable energy sources, in contrast, have stable and predictable costs, providing a more secure economic future.

6. Health and Environmental Impacts: While cleaner than coal, gas combustion still produces pollutants that can harm human health, such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Investing in renewables directly reduces these health risks by eliminating combustion emissions altogether. In addition, the extraction and production of natural gas can cause significant environmental harm, including habitat destruction, water contamination, and air pollution. These impacts can have long-term negative effects on local communities and ecosystems. Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential much higher than carbon dioxide. Methane leaks during extraction, transportation, and usage can significantly undermine climate goals.

7. Climate Commitments: To meet international climate commitments and avoid catastrophic climate change, the world needs to rapidly reduce fossil fuel use. Investing in gas delays this urgent transition, making it harder to achieve necessary emissions reductions.

8. Missed Economic Opportunities: The renewable energy sector offers significant economic opportunities in terms of job creation, innovation, and sustainable development. Focusing on gas can cause Africa to miss out on these benefits, limiting its potential for economic growth.

CA Energy is a leading recruitment firm specializing in the renewable energy sector. Headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa, we boast a global footprint with a network that focuses on the EMEA region, while also taking on assignments in South America and APAC. As a sister company to CA Mining, CA Energy prioritizes the development of enduring relationships that build trust with both candidates and clients. Our approach centers on strategic networking and personalized investment, ensuring we meet recruitment needs and foster long-term partnerships through relevant counsel. Committed to professionalism and focused on the future of renewable energy, CA Energy connects talent with opportunity, driving progress in the industry.

At CA Energy we envision a balanced approach where gas power serves as a bridge, ensuring energy security and economic stability while we help scale up renewable energy infrastructure. Eventually, we hope for an Africa that leads the world in renewable energy adoption, leveraging her abundant natural resources. We believe that a strong and talented workforce can achieve our renewable energy visions in Africa and we are determined to help your next renewable energy project with the staffing solutions it needs to thrive efficiently and effectively.

The gas vs renewables debate was a highlight at the Africa Energy Forum in Barcelona held this week which was attended by our two CA Energy representatives Mitch Wernich and Lucia Baeza. We found that investing in gas power represents a pragmatic approach to Africa’s energy transition. While it is not without its challenges, such as potential economic burdens and the risk of diverting funds from renewable energy projects, gas power offers a significant reduction in harmful emissions and ensures energy reliability. Companies like GE Vernova are at the forefront of advancing gas turbine technology, demonstrating its potential to support a near-zero carbon economy through innovations in hydrogen and carbon capture. At CA Energy, we advocate for a balanced strategy where gas power serves as a transitional solution, supporting the build-up of renewable energy infrastructure. Ultimately, our vision is for Africa to lead in renewable energy adoption, leveraging its abundant natural resources and a skilled workforce to achieve a sustainable and prosperous future.