Interview: Tobias Becker
What are the main challenges to improving energy efficiency in African markets?
TOBIAS BECKER: In quite a number of African countries, electricity fees do not accurately represent production costs. This is not a strong incentive to improve energy efficiency, which is a shame. The current level of affordability is preventing players from investing in more sophisticated power equipment and infrastructure, even though the payback from these investments would be reasonably fast.
Furthermore, there is a lack of awareness about energy efficiency among public bodies in Africa. The private sector needs to explain to African officials the long-term advantages of investing in energy efficiency solutions. On a positive note, the low commodity prices have forced a number of governments to look towards more eco-friendly sources and cost-representative tariffs. Mindsets are therefore evolving, even if there is also a short-term counterargument caused by the lower cost of gas and diesel, which are still used to run power stations. However, the 30% decrease in hydrocarbon prices has created a backlash lately, distracting decision makers from finding long-term solutions.
How do Algeria’s renewable energy assets compare with the rest of the continent?
BECKER: The fact that the country possesses significant hydrocarbon resources means it can build industries and infrastructure that can sustain a modern society without burning all of its natural resources. The huge amount of gas reserves is a fantastic asset, so it is logical that Algeria uses gas for power generation and petrochemical production. Today, 50% of gas production is consumed locally. Using renewable energy should be the next step, especially since Algeria has an abundance of sunlight. With the Atlas and Hoggar mountains, the wind power potential is also vast, and there is no reason for the country to not become a net exporter of renewable energy in the near future.
What investments should Algeria prioritise to help balance its energy mix?
BECKER: I believe the secret is to achieve a balanced mix of solar, wind and biomass projects, in addition to improving natural gas power generation. Starting with investments in solar power makes the most sense, as that would align best with Algeria’s natural assets. There are already steady levels of power generated from gas, which is a very agile and flexible commodity that can be easily combined with more fluctuating inputs from renewable sources to deal with consumption peaks. Solar also offers the advantage of being quick to roll out, as well as cost effective. I would then prioritise biomass production, which is a storage form of renewable energy that can take over power generation from solar at night.
How can companies reduce their energy consumption, and what kind of reduction is feasible?
BECKER: When we talk about energy efficiency, people think about LED bulbs and lighting reduction, but actually only 2% of all generated electricity is used for light, while 60% is used for industry. It is especially important to keep this in mind for a country such as Algeria, which relies greatly on heavy industry. The country could easily improve its energy consumption figures through high-efficiency motors and power electronic drive systems.
There is still a lot more that could be done in Algeria and across the continent in terms of optimising the use of motor applications. What is often underestimated, as it is not as visible in hydrocarbon industries, is that efficient control systems and processes are among the most effective ways to save energy. With the right technology and practices, companies can reduce energy consumption by 15%.
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