Supporting UN Sustainable Development Goals

IEC now officially at home in Africa

By Gabriela Ehrlich

Energy is the life-blood of developed and developing economies. IEC work helps enable broad access to sustainable energy and directly supports UN Sustainable Development Goals. It does so by providing universally accessible technical know-how and expertise in the form of International Standards. With them countries are able to build safer, more affordable infrastructure that is easier to maintain.  To be even closer to Africa, the IEC has now opened a Regional Centre for Africa in Nairobi, Kenya.

Young Africans are highly optimistic about their future

Energy: the golden thread

In September 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with an objective to “end poverty in all its forms” by 2030. Above everything, SDG 7, which aims to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” is where IEC contributions are most relevant and important. Energy is the golden thread that impacts most of the SDGs and beyond that, the development of every nation and the well-being of every one of us.

The United Nations has recognized energy as a cornerstone for economic development, facilitating poverty and hunger reduction efforts, improving education and women’s empowerment and providing access to better quality healthcare.

Lack of energy puts brakes on development

Akiwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank stated that no component of the SDGs is more important than point number 7: Energy. He sent a strong message: “Africa cannot function without power as it is handicapping our growth and development. Homes, businesses, schools and hospitals suffer enormously. Factories lie idle for lack of power. The private sector is frozen in time. The lack of energy has put the brakes on Africa’s industrialization...”

The fact is: Africa’s economic development and the safety of many Africans are directly dependent on reliable access to good quality electric power.

IEC-AFRC workshop

Universal access to power was also the key topic of the workshop that launched the inauguration celebrations of IEC-AFRC, the Africa Regional Centre of the IEC, in Nairobi, Kenya on 2 November, 2015.

In his opening speech, Dr Shu, IEC Vice President and President of State Grid Corporation of China, the biggest utility in the world, underlined that electrification doesn’t happen by chance: “It needs regulations but also the know-how and expertise to build relevant infrastructure that is safe, affordable and can be maintained in the long run”.

Part of the mission of IEC-AFRC will be to support African countries in their quest to build a more reliable and sustainable power infrastructure for the millions who have no access to electricity. The IEC helps ensure and verify the safety, efficiency and interoperability both of off-grid and on-gird infrastructure and improve energy efficiency, the world’s largest untapped energy source.

Energy consumption is increasing in Africa

Africa is the world’s second-fastest-growing region, topped only by emerging Asia. This growth is fuelled by a rising consumer market and not, as one could believe, by the sole sale of its many resources.

Over the coming years the African economy is expected to grow by 7.7% annually – almost double the rate of advanced economies. Even though Africa is starting from a low point, corresponding roughly to where Southeast Asia was 30 years ago, the opportunities are huge. Already now Africa is third in terms of investment, right after the European Union and China. A more reliable infrastructure and consistent energy access could significantly accelerate this trend.

Today, according to World Bank statistics only about 24% of sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity.

Smarter cities needed – also in Africa

Growing urbanization is a key driver of economic development. African cities are expected to contribute the most with nearly 40% GDP growth. Today around 40% of Africans live in cities, this figure will grow to 47% by 2030. Cities will need to grow smarter and more sustainable, and here too IEC work will help Africa to make the best of new technologies.

Optimistic about the future

Africans are exceptionally optimistic about their economic future. 84% of the 13 000 consumers interviewed by McKinsey expect to be better off in two years.

The middle class is growing and more of them are able to spend money on non-food items, including appliances and branded goods.

Africa is also the only continent that is growing younger. Today, more than 200 million Africans are aged between 14 and 24, this demographic is expected to increase to 321 million by 2030.

More and more electric power needed

Young Africans form a large share of the rising middle class and are expected to seek access to a wider choice of consumer goods and entertainment as well as increased connectivity. Young African urbanites resemble their counterparts anywhere on the globe. They are brand and quality conscious, but affordability is critical.

All of this will drive energy and in particular electricity consumption. According to OECD numbers, it is expected that by 2040 developing countries will use double the electricity developed countries use today.

Many solutions required

Going forward, African countries will need to produce more electric power faster than ever before.  Many different solutions will need to be considered for this. Big will not always be beautiful. As Ing Abel Tella, CEO of the Association of Power Utilities of Africa (APUA) underlined in an interview he gave during the IEC-AFRC opening celebrations: “Off-grid power solutions will help bring power to millions who would otherwise have to wait many years to be connected to grid power. Most of these solutions will use renewable energy.”

Away from fossil fuels

Wise energy choices will have to be made. Africa has an abundance of natural resources; the whole continent is basically one big solar panel. It has also wind and lots of water. And yet, 93% of Africa’s hydropower potential remains underdeveloped. Over 80% of African electricity generation is still from fossil fuels. Long-term energy security would benefit from adding other energy sources to the mix.

Why a regional Centre in Africa?

The IEC now addresses 48 countries in Africa. 8 are IEC Members and 40 are already involved with the IEC Affiliate Country Programme. And while some are really benefitting from the Programme, others still have to learn how to make better use of this opportunity that comes free of charge.  

New IEC home in Africa officially opened

On 2 November, 2015, at the end of the inauguration cocktail, the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development of Kenya, his Excellency Adan Mohamed, declared the IEC Africa Regional Centre officially opened.

As the regional focal point for Africa, the IEC Africa Regional Centre will provide training and mentoring to assist African countries in adopting and using IEC International Standards and Conformity Assessment Systems.

IEC-AFRC aims to motivate more African countries to join the IEC as a Member or Affiliate. The Centre will also support them in their participation, no matter their level of commitment.

The main tasks of IEC-AFRC will be to:

  • provide training and technical assistance
  • raise the awareness of IEC International Standards and the IEC Conformity Assessment Systems both among governments and of local industries
  • provide a link between the global IEC and all African countries
  • visit and support all IEC Members and Affiliate Country Programme participants in the region
  • work closely with the African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission (AFSEC), the African Union and all the other regional bodies that are important for African development
  • involve more African countries at the governmental level in IEC work
  • ultimately become a technical centre that helps coordinate IEC work like our other Regional Centres

Those who make the Centre

The IEC is happy to count Evah Oduor among the pioneering staff of IEC-AFRC. As IEC Coordinator for Africa since 2008, she has been a great asset for the IEC and the IEC Affiliate Country Programme. Evah is also active in AFSEC. Until recently, she was Managing Director of the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).

François Ahoti has recently joined the IEC coming from UNIDO, where he was Chief Technical Advisor for a European Union (EU) funded project to improve the quality infrastructure in Haiti. François is not a foreigner to standardization, having worked for CODINORM, the National Standards Body of Côte d’Ivoire. In that context he helped set up and structure the IEC National Electrotechnical Committee of Côte d’Ivoire and later that of Haiti. François has extensive expertise in certification and conformity assessment, management systems and quality tools.

IEC-AFRC is located in modern, functional premises at the ESBC offices at Eden Square in Nairobi.

Photos of the opening event can be found and downloaded here:

  • Password: photosIEC16
  • Password for IEC-AFRC photos: IECAFRC15
Off-grid solar On- and off-grid generation: both will be needed
Hydro DRC Near endless natural energy resources - DRC river
Africa is getting younger Only continent that is growing younger
education Young Africans are highly optimistic about their future
Evah and François François Ahoti and Evah Oduor