There is a desperate need for a shared vision and for comprehensive long-term planning if Africa is to succeed in realising its energy potential. That, in a nutshell, was the message that emerged from a joint plenary session at the Power-Gen Africa conference in Cape Town.

That such a vision does not exist and that most planning is in the perceived and short-term interests of politicians or national entities was clearly underlined. At a time when South Africa’s energy policy — and that of other countries — hinges on bringing power across borders, there was no harmonisation of policies and this creates many hurdles and hampers development.

There is unanimity at the conference that energy demand globally is on the increase — and will continue to rise. However, as  speakers at the plenary agreed, there is also a great deal of energy that can be saved. But there is also a trade-off to be considered between water, energy and food security.

One result of this thinking in South Africa has been the development, first at Saldanha Steel on the West Coast and now at the Medupi power station, of “dry cooling”, essential in a country where water is a major concern. However, the panel agreed that the need for a common vision and policies is not being met and that this applies not just on a continental basis, but also regionally.

This resulted is a comment from the floor that seemed to sum up the situation: “Africa has no shortage of skills or of funding. What is lacking is political leadership.” It was a sentiment apparently shared by most of the audience, given the spontaneous bout of applause.