Senegal has already had major success in renewable energy development but is coming to a threshold where additional measures will be needed to improve grid flexibility and enable a higher penetration of renewables in its electricity mix.
Senegal's current energy system is still dominated by expensive imported fossil fuels: heavy fuel oil continues to make up the largest share of the country's electricity generation. This dependence on imported fossil fuels has placed a major strain on the economy and led to some of the highest electricity prices in Africa. In addition to the renewable portfolio, phasing out heavy fuel oil and coal can be done with domestic Senegalese gas resources. While gas could potentially help balance the fluctuating availability of renewables by coming online when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing, gas to power expansion also runs a risk of either high emission lock-in – competing and undermining renewables – or ending up as stranded assets in a more rapid transition. These can largely be avoided with transmission and system flexibility measures to allow Senegal to build on its existing renewable success.
Such measures include storage and smart grid technologies, including demand response, improved transmission and distribution both in Senegal and in the wider West African region, as well as reforms in electricity markets and network management. Sector coupling and exploring options for the repurposing or retirement of the existing fossil fuel power plant fleet can help further accelerate the Senegalese energy transition. To avoid threatening the business model of renewable mini-grid operators, new transition models could be explored for them to co-exist with the main grid as small-scale electricity producers and distributors. This could help offset the decline in investment in mini-grids in cases where the Senegalese government intends to extend the national grid and fill the gaps in rural electrification until the national grid can be extended. Senegal's transition to a renewable energy system is an ambitious but achievable goal that can bring significant economic, social, and environmental benefits to the country.
Germany and its know-how has the potential to play an important role in supporting Senegal with a just energy transition and reaching its sustainable development goals. Germany is a co-lead, together with France, within the G7 to negotiate Just Energy Transition Partnerships – a new model for north-south cooperation first launched with South Africa at the Glasgow climate negotiations in 2021. In this role, it is important that Germany is guided by its overall commitment to the Paris Agreement, as well as its Glasgow and G7 commitments to phase out public financing for fossil fuels except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with a 1.5°C warming limit and do not foster fossil fuel lock-in. While private investors have shown willingness and are already investing in renewable energy projects in Senegal, JETP partners can enhance and facilitate mobilisation of private investment by supporting Senegal to set the right general policy environment for continued decarbonisation. Limited grant funding and concessional finance are best used to support continued reforms, feasibility studies, and further enabling private finance through de-risking and blended finance.
A successful transition in Senegal would be an important signal for the wider West African Region and future JETP candidates. A rapid transition to a sustainable, just, low-carbon energy system is essential to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change not only in large coal dependent countries but also in countries that may consider starting down a fossil fuel dependent pathway with heightened stranded asset and fossil fuel lock-in risk. Senegal, as a relatively stable democracy is an important stabilising force in the region with important economic ties to its neighbours. Compared to other JETP countries, Senegal does not yet have significant emissions and the country bears little historical responsibility for climate change. Its selection as a JETP candidate especially in the context of its oil and gas discoveries is an important signal to both other West African countries and other future JETP candidates about the potential for a renewable based energy transition – not only away from coal but also away from a potential fossil fuel dependent future. In addition to its potential pioneering character more generally, success in Senegal would also have a direct positive climate impact on the other countries in the West African Power Pool by lowering their emissions through electricity trading as well as growing the regional economy with which Senegal shares an economic and monetary union.