Africa, a promising market for LNG?

While the African continent is rich in oil and gas, the continent's LNG consumption remains relatively low. In the face of growing energy demand, it is interesting to look at the place of LNG in Africa. Will the continent's various countries be able to import LNG to meet energy demand as the world's powers accelerate their energy transition?

Africa is an interesting continent in terms of energy. For over 60 years, several African countries have been exploiting and exporting fossil fuels. Since then, gas has taken an important place in various countries. As demand for LNG increases, it is interesting to note that Africa has long had infrastructure capable of exporting this resource. For example,Algeriadeveloped its LNG sector in 1964 and was a pioneer in this field. Other countries have followed suit. This is the case of Libya, Nigeria,Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and more recently Cameroon.

However, LNG exports are limited to certain areas of Africa. In addition, gas resources are highly localized. Moreover, gas consumption at the continental level is also limited. In sum, 90% of the continent’s gas consumption is located in North and West Africa. Consequently, these fragmentations give only certain countries the opportunity to develop gas exchanges. As the demand for gas in African countries increases, LNG is an attractive solution. Thus, all new gas import plans are geared towards LNG. Leaving aside the old modes of exchange such as gas pipelines.

Nevertheless, several dynamics may slow down this LNG growth. Markets are volatile and uncertain. Moreover, renewable energies tend to replace fossil fuels. Given these factors, can LNG imports from African countries continue to be stimulated?

Africa and its energy consumption

First and foremost, it is important to note that the pattern of primary energy consumption in Africa primarily reflects the level of energy resource endowment and the degree of economic development, including investment in energy infrastructure(OIES, 2022).

Fossil fuels account for 90% of the continent’s energy consumption. Oil is widely consumed across the continent and accounts for about 40% of energy consumption. Gas and coal consumption, on the other hand, is concentrated in certain regions. For example, 85% of coal consumption is in South Africa.

Natural gas is the fastest growing source of electricity generation. In 2020, Africa’s gas consumption was estimated at 164 billion m3. This represents 30% of Europe’s gas consumption and 4% of the world’s total natural gas use. With one-fifth of the world’s population and only 3% of the world’s electricity demand, Africa has the opportunity to dramatically increase its generation capacity.

Localized consumption

As we saw earlier, gas consumption is concentrated in certain countries. North Africa, mainly Egypt and Algeria, consumes 80% of African natural gas. West Africa, especially Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, consumes 15%.

However, other countries on the continent could increase their consumption. This is the case for South Africa in particular, which wants to get rid of coal. Mozambique and Tanzania are considering developing their gas resources, possibly leading to increased consumption.

Nevertheless, these dynamics are slow and will not precipitously change the map of consumption. In addition, the low use of gas from other African countries and weak gas interconnections limit the consumption outlook. This is despite the fact that African gas reserves are abundant.

Which sectors consume the most gas?

As in most countries of the world, the use of gas is mainly directed to the electric sector. This is followed by the industrial sector and then the energy sector. Together they consume 80% of the continent’s gas.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the industry is expected to become one of the main drivers of natural gas demand growth in emerging markets and developing economies. This may be the case for large African economies, but not for other economies. While 580 million people, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to electricity, it is the power generation sector that will remain the priority and the main user of gas.

African gas demand projections

According to the IEA, the demand for natural gas in Africa will increase from 164 billion m3 in 2020 to between 193 and 210 billion m3 in 2030. The IEA scenarios assume relatively moderate average annual growth rates in gas demand. Ranging from less than 2% to 2.5% until 2030. And on an average of 2% per year beyond 2030 for the unsustainable development scenario.

The Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) forecasts an average growth rate of 3% over the next three decades. However, with uncertainties and market volatility affecting economies, it is difficult to predict which scenario is more significant.

Although localized and uncertain, the demand for gas in Africa will certainly grow in the future. Between 2010 and 2020, more than a dozen projects have been announced to import LNG supplies into various sub-regions of Africa. LNG is then a means to meet the growing consumption. But why and is it an effective solution?

Elements promoting LNG imports into Africa

Continued rapid growth in electricity demand in Africa is contributing to the desire to import LNG. Several countries are trying to move away from coal or oil. This will lead to an increase in demand for gas-fired electricity generation.

LNG also becomes a choice when some African countries face a lack of natural gas supply. In addition, some may temporarily switch to this resource while waiting for the development of new local gas capacity.

More complex, the African market became interesting for LNG in the mid-2010s. In addition, Asian demand had slowed, resulting in an oversupply of LNG on the markets. As a result, world prices have fallen. LNG has become a low-cost resource compared to other alternatives. Thus, the African market and its growing demand for gas are attracting.

On the other hand, it should be noted that during the 2010s, petroleum product costs were high relative to gas prices in the distribution centers. This period also coincides with the emergence and increasing use of floating LNG import facilities.

But important obstacles remain

Currently, no LNG imports are taking place in Africa. The context of the current energy crisis is leading to an increase in prices. This context could explain the lack of imports. As the price of LNG is high, it becomes less competitive than the alternatives. However, there are fundamental obstacles that essentially explain the lack of imports:

  1. The price of gas
  2. Solvency and payment problems of suppliers
  3. Small domestic markets
  4. Lack of natural gas infrastructure
  5. Limited sources of funding
  6. The absence or inadequacy of an adequate legal and regulatory framework

Faced with these problems, it is difficult to implement projects. Yet Egypt had a short period of LNG imports in 2015. Also, Senegal received a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) in 2021. However, no LNG imports have yet been made.

Thus, African projects are too scattered and the obstacles remain significant. The OIES, in a 2022 study, then points out:

“So there is no African experience with LNG imports to draw on for potential new African project development.”

Nevertheless, it is possible for Africa to consider LNG imports. Therefore, it must address the factors that are essential for the formulation and implementation of LNG import projects.

How can Africa become an LNG importer?

LNG supply prices

Affordable gas prices are important for potential LNG importers in Africa. Therefore, current and future movements in the price of LNG supply in international markets have a definite impact on the decision to import.

Economic, financial, social and energy resource endowment disparities between different countries or sub-regions of Africa cause gas prices to vary from one region to another. As we have seen before, more than 90% of the gas consumption is realized in the North and West of the continent. Several of these countries are gas producers and can therefore meet their needs. Also, there are multiple gas pipelines to get supplies from your neighbor.

Moreover, according to the International Gas Union, more than 60% of natural gas consumed in Africa is currently priced below the cost of gas supply. In addition, African states use subsidies that lower the price of gas in their domestic markets. LNG must then have a price that defies the domestic market price in order to be competitive.

In short, if LNG prices are high on international markets, as is currently the case, it is not profitable in the short term for these countries to import LNG. Thus, in order for Africa to develop the necessary infrastructure for LNG imports, it is essential to have a low LNG price. However, the implementation of projects must be long-term.

A price evolution that can be profitable

It is possible that market prices will become more affordable in the future. According to OIES’ analysis of final investment decisions for LNG projects, global LNG production capacity is expected to increase by nearly 60% by the end of the decade compared to 2021.

Qatar, the United States and Mozambique are planning new LNG production that could provide relief to world prices. Similarly, assuming that more Russian gas will be supplied to China, currently the world’s largest importer of LNG, there will be less price pressure from Asian markets.

In sum, price developments are a key factor leading to LNG import strategies. However, there is a need to invest in order to supply African markets. This financing depends on the size of the national gas markets.

Domestic markets

During the 2010s, Africa could be considered as an alternative market to Asia and Europe. However, Africa’s LNG import capacities are not comparable. According to the OIES, by 2030, Africa’s LNG import capacity could reach between 5 and 12 billion m3. This is equivalent to between 4% and 11% of European imports in 2020. However, only a few countries will import such as South Africa and Morocco.

South Africa wants to invest in gas projects, including LNG, as part of its strategy to reduce carbon emissions. The country could import between 6 and 15 billion m3 by 2030. Morocco has been involved since the 2010s in building infrastructure to supply its market with LNG. The potential Moroccan demand is estimated at 1.7 billion m3 by 2030 and 3 billion m3 by 2040.

Potential African markets are small and pose a challenge for future LNG investments. However, it is possible that they could expand to a sub-regional level to supply several countries. This is the case for the Tema LNG import project in Ghana. The plan is to supply gas to neighboring countries in West Africa by small LNG ships and road trucks.

Another solution, difficult to implement, would be to exchange electricity instead of gas between sub-regions. The OIES study states:

“The so-called gas-by-wire approach would involve exporting electricity generated (primarily) by gas-fired power plants and transmitted to neighboring countries through existing subregional power pools.”

Even with potential growth, African markets will remain relatively small for the next few years. Nevertheless, they can be an interesting outlet when LNG markets become surplus again.

Financing of gas infrastructures

Even if price conditions are favorable and import market sizes are acceptable, it is essential to have the necessary investments to build the infrastructure to accommodate LNG.

Financing most energy infrastructure projects in Africa is a long and complicated process, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. In these countries, financing has generally been provided or facilitated primarily by multilateral development banks and export credit agencies.

Investors are not limited to facilities handling LNG. They look at the viability of the entire energy chain. It ranges from production to delivery to end users, such as national power companies. The latter very often have credit and payment problems.

In addition, recent moves toward decarbonization of investments will possibly limit the financing of fossil fuel projects. During COP26, a group of 20 countries decided to stop funding fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022. It specifies that these restrictions would only apply to the “undeveloped fossil fuel energy sector”. Some exemptions are allowed in “limited” circumstances.

In sum, the financial environment for LNG projects in Africa is fragile. In addition, climate concerns will likely diminish investment capacity.

Security of supply

The interest of some African countries in acquiring LNG import capacity is a response to their security of supply concerns. In several cases, dependence on cross-border pipeline supplies from neighboring gas producing countries is a concern. Sub-regional political tensions and lack of trust lead to the need for security. Thus, LNG offers a source of diversification.

However, natural gas supply shortages or infrastructure problems have been the main causes of restrictions or interruptions in cross-border pipeline trade. For example, cross-border gas deliveries from Nigeria to Ghana through the West Africa Gas Pipeline have never reached their contracted levels. This is due to problems with gas supply and transportation in Nigeria.

Also, some countries may be looking for a more cost-effective supply solution. Long-term contracts with strict purchase clauses and payment guarantees make a gas supply like LNG more secure.

Renewable energies as a barrier to LNG imports?

As the continent’s energy demand increases, it is questionable whether renewable energy will be able to meet the need. And there is good reason to believe that these energy sources will play an important role in the future. In addition, global climate concerns are increasingly driving investors to finance renewable projects.

In addition, initiatives such as the group of 20 countries at COP26 to limit funding for fossil fuels suggest that this type of decision will become recurrent. Thus, the prospects for developing LNG import capacity may be compromised. As the OIES study indicates:

“There is international pressure on African policymakers to step up the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. This could affect how governments prioritize and manage their energy transition, including the role of natural gas.”

Renewable energy in Africa

For the time being, the share of renewable energy in total primary energy consumption in Africa remains very limited. In 2020, variable sources of renewable energy (solar and wind) represented only 7% of the total installed capacity in Africa. About 90% of the renewable capacity is located in a few countries in North and Southern Africa.

Yet, about $55 billion has been invested in renewable energy in Africa over the past decade. Nevertheless, 75% of these investments are concentrated in four countries: South Africa, Morocco, Egypt and Kenya (IRENA, 2022).

However, the installed renewable capacities in these countries will probably not exceed 40% to 50% of the total electricity mix. Except for Kenya, which is expected to get closer to 100% renewable energy by 2030. IESO explains:

“Investment in renewable energy projects in Africa has increased at one of the highest growth rates in the world, but the level and national coverage of these investments is still far short of what would be needed for Africa to achieve a satisfactory energy transition consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Instability hinders the development of these energies

Market conditions are blocking investments in renewable energy in Africa. Several countries continue to present high commercial, legal and political risks. However, it is necessary to increase investments to develop the necessary infrastructures to develop renewable energies on a large scale. In addition, to effectively implement a much broader development of renewable energy, the issue of intermittency and energy storage would need to be addressed.

However, these facilities will take time to develop. They will not be able to immediately meet the growing African energy demand. Nevertheless, renewable projects will continue to grow rapidly.

Will Africa get LNG capacity or can renewable energy be a preferable source of energy? The so-called “developed” countries are rapidly decarbonizing their economies. As a result, LNG imports are likely to decrease. One wonders whether some African countries will not take advantage of the absence of large LNG consumers to develop import capacity. This is provided that the constraints mentioned above are removed.

However, recent developments indicate that investments in fossil fuels will become increasingly rare, with some exceptions. The war in Ukraine is pushing some European countries to redevelop fossil fuels in order to meet their short-term energy needs. Nevertheless, in the absence of favorable conditions for LNG imports into Africa, it is likely that these countries will have to develop local solutions to meet their growing need.


Illustration : Landscape by JUNKO UENO

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