‘How Middle East Energy can quicken Nigeria’s green transition plan’

ADE YESUFU is the exhibition manager of energy portfolio – MEA, Informa Markets. In this interview with JOSEPHINE OKOJIE, he spoke on the recently concluded Middle East Energy conference in Dubai, UAE, and how Nigeria can meet its energy transition needs.

Can you tell us about Middle East Energy and what it entails in 2023?

Middle East Energy is the leading international trade event for the power industry. Based in Dubai, the event is a unique platform for energy leaders to explore the latest technological advancements in the energy sector while participating in relevant discourse with other leaders. This year’s edition was held at the Dubai World Trade Centre from March 7 to 9, 2023 and covered a broad spectrum of energy sub-sectors including the generation, transmission & distribution of electricity, energy consumption & management, renewable & clean energy, critical & backup power, and smart solutions. Providing an inspiring view of future possibilities, Middle East Energy 2023 featured conferences to outline the blueprint for accelerating the energy transition, case studies to inspire real-world and practical solutions to energy projects and business challenges and laid the groundwork for integrating renewables into the mix.

Middle East Energy retains a strong legacy as the premier energy trade event in its 48th edition. What was the key highlight of MEE this year?

MEE has gained its reputation as the longest and most-established event in the energy industry across the MEA region through a legacy of 48 years. The event continues to connect the global energy community, allowing networking opportunities with international energy suppliers, the discovery of products and solutions that are changing the energy landscape, and the building of long-lasting business relationships that will not only help the industry to stay ahead of the competition but will enable them to diversify their energy needs. The key highlight for this year’s edition was the quality of attendees across the spectrum of the event. This is a result of the constant energy-changing needs of governments and the industry at large. Middle East Energy enabled them to evolve to have a diverse, digitized, and sustainable future.

This year, MEE hosted 900+ exhibitors from 57 countries. What were the new experiences for participants?

At the event, guests explored the latest energy trends through six dedicated product sectors within a combined mega-show. These distinct sectors included Backup Generators & Critical Power, Transmission & Distribution, Renewables & Clean energy, Smart Solutions, and Energy Consumption and Management. With a 25,000+ global audience, MEE brought together everyone who mattered across the global energy sector including; energy ministers, utility decision makers, and even innovative startup leaders to participate in conversations around global energy transition, renewable hybrid solutions, and the advancement of the global energy industry. This year, MEE also played host to a series of conferences and sessions that encouraged key discourse. This included the first-ever Strategic Conference which was a high-level forum focused on unpacking the complex opportunities and challenges in the energy and utilities sector. The technical seminar brought together success stories from leading projects, the practical application of cutting-edge research and innovation, and technological advancements in the energy and utilities sector. Lastly, the Intersolar Conference provided concentrated insights into the transformative dynamics of renewable energies around the world.

The theme of this year’s edition was ‘Guiding the region through the energy transition.’ How did this impact the distinct product sectors highlighted at the event?

As you can tell from the theme, our focus for this year was on energy transition. This theme guided the entire planning process for the exhibition which has now seen a 20 percent growth in the dedicated renewable energy zone. The country pavilions also featured state-of-the-art renewable energy products and solutions, especially solar, and other renewable sources. The collocated Intersolar Middle East Conference was a must-attend for Nigerians and Africans who are going through a transformation process and are seeking to diversify and want to explore the latest advancement in renewable energy, energy storage, and green hydrogen.

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Three pillars central to energy transition – decarbonization, financial investments, and digitalization & technologies. How did MEE address these pillars concerning Nigeria and Africa’s energy transition needs?

There were dedicated sessions at the Strategic Conference with government and industry experts from across Africa addressing Nigeria and Africa’s energy transition needs. The panel session on Nigeria especially focused on the role of gas in a just energy transition, whilst also highlighting the framework for efficient energy financing. The conference also reviewed the best practices in controlling energy project risks, securing revenue, and putting in place adequate lender protections to ensure that investors can be comfortable providing debt finance on a non-recourse or limited recourse basis. Other sessions at the conference provided opportunities to explore projects in Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, Zambia, Somalia, and Nigeria working to accelerate the transition to clean energy, drive energy decarbonization, and ensure efficient use of energy. The second day was dedicated to decarbonization. I was personally looking forward to the discourse by Sule Abdulaziz who is the chairman of the executive board of West African Power Pool (WAPP) and the managing director of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) on the roadmap to net-zero carbon implementation. I enjoyed his perspectives on what success looks like and what policies, systems, and strategies countries need to adopt to achieve universal electricity access through clean energy. Lastly, digitalization and technologies are key to advancing Africa into a future of universal electrification where energy demands are met. This is why the conference dedicated a whole day to reviewing how the power and utilities sector is harnessing the fourth industrial revolution to enable the energy transition.

Currently, the world is focusing on renewable energy, specifically green hydrogen which has exciting prospects in Africa. What opportunities were offered by MEE to support its implementation in the region and the growth of the market?

The Intersolar Conference at MEE discussed the current status of implementation and the actions required to get green hydrogen to an industrial scale. Industry experts deliberated on the economic efficiency of green hydrogen and its significance for the global economy. They shared their visions and the concrete steps toward materialization, and spoke on how political support will enable the market. A hydrogen economy at scale will complement the renewable sector to build a resilient energy system. Attendees received real-world answers, a look at upcoming investments, and debated on if existing assets can contribute to an accelerated transition.

In addition to green hydrogen, were there opportunities for discourse concerning 2023 energy trends, other renewable hybrid solutions, and their significance for Africa?

The integration of hybrid systems into the energy network will increase stability and security, reduce emissions, and lower the cost of electricity. However, to enable these advantages, there is a requirement for the electricity network to transition to a smart grid. The Strategic Conference focused on strategies companies have successfully implemented to create hybrid systems with renewables and how a smart grid should be developed to enable the effective integration of these intermittent resources. The ever-growing share of intermittent renewable power generation feeding electricity into the grid has created stability challenges for the utility sector. This has led to further requirements for grid integration and operation. Combining different sources of renewable energy and energy storage is part of the solution and the Intersolar Conference delved deeper into hybrid solutions for the grid.

What long-term impact would you say MEE will have on Nigeria and Africa?

Affordable and reliable energy for all Africans remains an absolute priority for Africans in the next five years. Presently 600 million people, accounting for 43 percent of the total population, lack access to electricity, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Countries like Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda are on track for full access by 2030, offering success stories other countries can follow. In rural areas, where over 80 percent of the electricity-deprived live, mini-grids and stand-alone systems, mostly solar-based, are the most viable solutions.

Do you think Nigeria’s energy sector is in a bright spot to attract new investments despite slow economic growth?

The Nigerian power sector requires immediate focus and investment. Cheap and abundant availability of power is a prerequisite for economic development, with the potential to have a multiplier effect on growth. In addition, the power sector facilitates high capital spending which promotes investment and builds economic competitiveness. To attract fresh investments, the country will need to improve several aspects along its power value chain. These include scaling up generation, transmission, and distribution capacity; driving efficiencies in utilization; and reducing transmission and distribution losses. Government, regulatory bodies, and industry participants will all play core roles with the government and regulators taking the lead to create the right investment climate and set favorable policies in place. Industry participants should focus on maintaining and overhauling failing infrastructures, implementing new technology, faster project execution, and improving operational efficiencies to accelerate Nigeria’s journey towards a comprehensive transformation of its power sector.

What is Informa Market’s plan for Nigeria and Africa in the coming years?

Informa Markets hopes to support Nigeria and other African countries in reaching their developmental goals toward increasing their electrification rate and making power affordable and accessible to communities that do not have access. We have a host of events occurring across the continent that will help countries industrialize by providing an enabling platform for manufacturers and suppliers to engage with local stakeholders, as well as for buyers and sellers from across the globe to develop international relationships and for investors to discover the opportunities available in the region.

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