The theme for this year’s United Nations (UN) Africa Industrialisation Day focuses on the contribution of inclusive and sustainable industrial development, in helping Africa address its development challenges.
Whilst on the Energy Catalyst Kenya Mission with GCRF and Innovate UK, our CEO Toby Gill learned more of the challenges energy security poses to industrial development and the important role that fuel-based power plays today.
As the International Energy Agency (IEA) state in their 2019 Africa Energy Outlook report, the “critical task for policy makers is to address the persistent lack of access to electricity and clean cooking, and the unreliability of electricity supply, which have acted as brakes on the continent’s development.”
Fuel-based power is needed to provide energy security, and a dependable service for customers
For decades now, the world has relied on fuel-based power, whether that’s from centralized power plants or small-scale generators, to power our homes, fuel our industries and drive our economic growth.
As we know, our energy system is changing. Globally, we are striving to end our reliance on fossil fuels and develop methods of power generation that not only ensure access for all but are also compatible with our decarbonisation targets.
Through innovations in wind and solar power generation, we are transitioning to a system of more diverse sources of distributed generation. Developing economies across sub-Sharan Africa, South and South-East Asia are "leap-frogging" traditional models of power supply familiar in developed countries, and building micro- and mini-grids based upon renewables.
However, as IPG learnt on the Energy Catalyst Kenya Mission, despite the region’s vast renewable power potential, many national and mini-grid service providers still rely heavily on diesel generators. This is because these mini-grids are almost exclusively powered by solar and battery storage. But to provide the absolute energy security their customers demand, they use fuel-based generators to provide balancing and back-up power. With diesel and kerosene the most widely available fuel sources in the region, this power reliability often comes at a cost to the environment.
Fuel-flexibility is key for supporting the transition to renewable fuels and reinventing fuel-based power for the net-zero carbon future
Last year, IPG joined the GCRF and Innovate UK Energy Catalyst mission to Kenya, where our CEO Toby Gill spoke with United Nations representatives, local NGO’s, and entrepreneurs and innovators in biofuel production. From those conversations, we have begun to understand the key drivers of using fuel-based power generation in the region and the opportunities that technologies like ours could offer.
The role of fuel-flexibility in power infrastructure proved of key interest in supporting the transition from imported fuels, like diesel and kerosene, to domestically produced renewable fuels. With the road map to the abundant availability of renewable fuels uncertain, the fuel-flexibility of IPG’s technology enables power providers to decarbonise their supply as the fuels become available, and retain the security and reliability that fuel-based power is currently providing. Equally, having the ability to reliably respond to intermittent fuel supplies offers another method for providing customers with the energy security they demand.
We also discussed the role that fuel-flexibility could play in strengthening the region’s biofuel production capacities. One of the key drivers for increasing biofuel production in African nations is replacing solid biomass or kerosene for cooking. By being able to integrate biofuels into the electricity system, there would be a greater demand for production, which will help drive economies of scale.
Whilst IPG is principally focused on market entry in Europe and North America, we look forward to exploring ways we can work with businesses and innovators in developing economies such as Kenya to support their drive for sustainable, secure and affordable energy.
 International Energy Agency (2019), Africa Energy Outlook, available at: www.iea.org