The Middle Ground: Why Africa Needs a Pragmatic Strategy That Combines Fossil Fuels and Renewables

The Heated Energy Debate

The deeper that we head into this decade, the more and more it seems that everybody has developed some sort of viewpoint when it comes to energy. Do we fully dispense with fossil fuels and charge headlong into renewable energy sources? Or should we throw every last resource of our focus into the oil and gas industries?

As somebody who is significantly invested in Africa’s energy landscape, such one-sided, black-and-white stances often leave me with a stunned chuckle. Both sides of the debate have lost sight of the virtues of their opponents—it would be like debating whether pizza or pasta is the better Italian dish when the fact is, they both have their value and role.

To help right-set these perspectives, I’ll discuss the many compelling reasons behind Africa’s need for a balanced energy policy that leverages the very best of both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.

We will dive into the benefits that a well-rounded strategy would bring to the table in terms of economic growth, job creation, and energy security. Whether you prefer “pizza” or “pasta,” consider suspending your perspective for a moment to help see the middle ground where both may coexist.

The Inherent Limitations of Renewables

Although I regularly speak about the potential of Africa’s immense oil and gas resources, I am also enthusiastic about the development of green, renewable energy sources. But despite the excitement of our new energy innovations, we cannot look away from the constraints they place on us, particularly in Africa.

As an example, renewables like solar and wind power will provide energy as long as the wind blows and the sun shines. Despite Africa’s vast, desert-like climate, the wind does not always blow, and the sun does not always shine. The inherently intermittent nature of these energy sources makes it a challenge to supply millions of people throughout Africa with consistent power.

Beyond this, harnessing such powerful natural resources requires extensive construction and maintenance of infrastructure. All of this, of course, is extremely costly and demands tremendous financial resources. Despite rising economic growth over the past few decades, many African nations do not have the financial means to dive into such ventures.

These weather-dependent and financially demanding limitations of renewables make it all the more necessary to tap into the substantial oil and gas deposits that many African nations already possess. Making use of the resources available to us while we gradually shift to more environmentally friendly forms of energy is a pragmatic approach that would enable prosperity in both the short and long term.

The Role of Oil and Gas in Africa’s Development

As African nations have prospered economically, both oil and gas have always played an extremely important role.

Africa’s natural resources of oil and gas are the fuel sources that drive our economy, build local communities, and provide employment opportunities. And although there is a moderately sized group of global leaders that believe we should keep our natural resources exactly where they are, it’s undeniable that we need them. Our continent is heavily reliant on these fuel sources to meet a significant percentage of our energy demand, and disrupting this ecosystem would be catastrophic.

The oil and gas industry has the power to stimulate industrialization and strengthen local capacities. Each of these will be vital for the development of sustainable economies continent-wide. By wisely tapping into our fossil fuel sources, we can provide a solid groundwork for the development and integration of greener, more sustainable technologies.

Benefiting from a Balanced Energy Mix

There are many positive outcomes to embracing a well-rounded energy mix that designates a place for both fossil fuels and renewables. For starters, doing so would enable us to make the most of the benefits offered by each type of energy source while simultaneously minimizing the drawbacks.

For example, natural gas would be an exceptional transitional fuel that could be used as backup when other renewable energy sources like solar and wind power aren’t able to meet the electrical demand. The two can work synergistically together, each lending their strength.

A well-rounded energy mix can bolster energy security by mitigating our reliance on a singular energy source. Balancing energy this way would lead to an overall more independent energy system. It would also promote creative thinking and teamwork by calling together stakeholders from a variety of industries to work on the development of sustainable solutions.

Creating a Pragmatic Energy Strategy

So we understand now that fossil fuels and renewable energy sources have the potential to coexist and work as a team. But how do we truly develop a realistic energy strategy for Africa that takes advantage of both?

The first step in developing this strategy is to concede that there is no possibility of a one-size-fits-all answer to this global question of renewable energy. Rather, each nation is tasked with the responsibility of developing a strategy that is specific to its own set of conditions and resources and leverages the best of what those resources have to offer.

In practice, this could entail making investments in renewable energy projects only where it makes financial and logistical sense to do so. Similar economically sensible investments could be made in updating existing oil and gas infrastructure with the purpose of minimizing emissions and boosting operational efficacy.

In addition to this, developing public-private partnerships and international collaboration will be required in order to exchange successful strategies and pool available resources.

The Power of Pragmatism

At the end of the day, choosing a singular side in the great energy debate misses the overall goal. We should instead acknowledge that both fossil fuels and renewable energy sources will have important roles to play in Africa’s energy future.

We can make the most of the benefits offered by each type of energy source if we take a realistic and well-rounded approach. Collaboration with one another is the genesis of building a future that is more sustainable, secure, and wealthy for our continent.

As we look into the future, let’s admit that the current state of the energy sector is not a zero-sum game. We can continue to be responsible about how we profit from our fossil fuel resources while simultaneously investing in a future of renewable energy.

As the old proverb states, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” And what better way is there to encourage creativity and advancement than by confronting our energy difficulties head-on and incorporating all of the tools that are available to us?

The next time you find yourself in the thick of a heated dispute over whether “pizza” or “pasta” is better, remember that you can enjoy the best of both worlds. And who knows? Maybe in the future, Africa will develop a method that makes renewable energy just as enticing to us as a piping-hot slice of pizza or a heaping plate of pasta.