All across the continent, African countries face dramatically increasing insistence from Western voices to cease oil and gas activities and make an immediate shift to renewable energy sources. What the West fails to acknowledge, however, is that there is a smarter and safer way to transition to green energy that won’t put Africans in jeopardy.
In anticipation of Africa Energy Week organized by the African Energy Chamber, in partnership with South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy. The importance of a just energy transition in Angola that accounts for the need for energy security, energy sovereignty, and energy access for all. As President Joao Lourenco stated recently in his speech at the Russian Energy Week and Minister Diamantino Azevedo, Minister of Mineral Resources, Oil and Gas has stated in various discussions on the issue, a one-size-fits-all transition being sought by the West would fail to address the needs of Angola, driving the country further into stagnation that would be a detriment to all of its people. Investment is needed into the energy sector as the government seeks to guarantee the self-sufficiency of refined products and is driving the implementation of three refineries that will enable Angola to reach a refining capacity of about 425,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Let’s face it, Angola is resource-rich.
Since the first commercial oil discovery in 1955 in the onshore Kwanza Basin, we have grown into one of the largest oil producers on the African continent, churning out 1 million barrels of crude every day. Angola holds more than 8 billion barrels of oil reserves and more than 11 trillion cubic feet of proven gas reserves. Currently, our oil sector accounts for more than one-third of our GDP and about 90% of our national exports.
The vast oil reserves under our feet mean little, however, if we continue to be hampered by a lack of investment. The current pressure to cease production, at a time when we are digging out of stagnation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, is unreasonable. We watched Angola’s GDP shrink by 4% in 2020 and Angola’s capital expenditure, often used for new projects and investments, plummet as a result.
In response, Minister Diamantino Azevedo worked on Angola’s Hydrocarbon Exploration Strategy 2020-2025, which calls for intensifying exploration and offering new tax incentives to revitalize the oil and gas industry. In it, he introduced industry reforms that have been contributing to significant foreign investment in oil and gas E&P, even during the pandemic — and these reforms have been paving the way to economic diversification amid a transition to renewable energy.
Angola has the opportunity to show the world that fossil fuels can play a significant role in moving toward green energy. And they have already begun.
One of the strategies to reduce Angola’s carbon footprint calls for increasing the use of natural gas as a major transition fuel. As a cleaner-burning alternative to coal and other petroleum products, natural gas supplies energy more reliably than current renewable alternatives, enabling accelerated industrialization as well as energy access for many more Angolans during the transition to renewables. The national oil company, Sonangol, is developing an LNG plant that will not only supply much-needed power but will also use associated gas as its primary power source, thus eliminating gas flaring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, they are committed to promoting renewables. They are restructuring Sonangol to include expanded investments in green energy. They also have begun working on substantial solar energy projects, including a partnership with Eni Angola to build a 50-60MW solar power plant that is anticipated to come online in 2022. They have also initiated studies on the potential of green hydrogen and biofuels for our country.
However, without the “power” of oil and gas to finance new technologies and support new initiatives, green energy initiatives like the solar power plant are at risk of failure—at a detriment to the millions of Angolans who already live in energy poverty.
Not only do we need our oil and gas resources to bridge the way to a broader energy mix, but we also are counting on them to meet pressing needs in the here and now. The oil industry is Angola’s economic lifeblood, and the government’s primary source of revenue: They depend on it to finance its people’s education, their health care, and other social services.
By working to strengthen the oil and gas industry, we are ensuring energy security, energy sovereignty, and energy access for all. This paves the way for Angola’s transition to alternative energy sources.
A successful transition is a just transition. And for the energy transition to be just, Angola must be allowed the time to capitalize on these efforts. Angolans can’t be expected to flip a switch; Angolans will need time to diversify our economy. They accept this, and they are working on this.
There is a serious flaw in thinking that, by curtailing petroleum production, Angola will simply adopt green energy instead on the next day. This is not an either-or situation; it is a transition. It must be fair, just and equitable. And smooth transitions take time. Despite the campaigns for “Net Zero by 2050,” the transition from fossil fuels to green energies will require years — and likely decades — of broad changes in consumer habits before we see the complete switch to alternative energy sources.
Angola must be allowed to develop its renewable industry at a pace that makes Angola stronger. Forcing Angola to shutter one of its largest sources of revenue will not cause Angola to move to renewables any faster. If anything, this will slow Angola’s forward progress because Angola will lack the capital to pursue it.
The African Energy Chamber supports President Joao Lourenco and Minister Diamantino Azevedo move to proudly hold up Angola’s oil and gas industry as an example of how the energy sector can be a catalyst for national and regional economic growth. Angola must remain undeterred by Western pressures as the country looks to accelerate its programs of exploration and production of oil and natural gas. Angola must continue to harness the tremendous potential of its fossil fuels as it looks toward its own energy transition defined by Angola. And Angola deserves the right to continue using Angolan resources to promote the welfare of its’ people.
African Energy Chamber