Africa’s new energy future relies on data-based decision making

Africa’s energy stakes are at a tipping point. We are on the edge of walking knowingly into quicksand by repeating habitual modes of thinking. We must rise from our silo-induced sink holes with new and aligned conversations about generation and distribution of energy on our continent. Professor Lwazi Ngubevana, Director: African Energy Leadership Centre (AELC) at Wits Business School starts the conversation to put divergent agendas on the same page.

In order for leaders to take this forward, he says, all decisions need to be data driven.

The starting point is to ask, “How do we move Africa’s energy from a crisis mindset to a solutions-focused mindset? What we need is a consolidated African decision making basis and strategic plan to take us away from multi-agenda interests to more cohesive community and environmental considerations.”

New energy leaders will have to take stock of, but not be driven by, political considerations when it comes to decision making in the energy and power sectors, and instead leverage data to drive their strategies.

Ngubevana explains, “It is imperative that we don’t take decisions solely based on political implications. For example, if the data reflects that renewable is more cost effective and sustainable than fossil fuel, then that is where we should be going. If the data says that global warming is happening at an accelerated pace compared to what our previous models showed, then we need to make our decisions faster based on that intelligence.”

It is going to take boldness from leaders across all sectors, driven by a commitment to make the transformation, he adds.

Data, he points out, informs the integrity of a decision. Whilst there is an overload in terms of how much data is available, organisations need to be able to harness the facts. In other words, they need to have trusted data-savvy teams who can sift through the noise.

“I see this data source approach as an opportunity,” he says, while acknowledging that it is a complex situation as business leaders have to make decisions based on the needs of different stakeholders.

He notes, however, that there has been an enabling shift in that lobbyists are making more headway and shareholder value has begun to be defined slightly differently. “Corporate value is now being seen from a holistic, societal perspective and there is a moral responsibility for leaders to think of the bigger picture,” he explains.

Ngubevana notes that if organisations are to become energy leaders of integrity, they also need to be pragmatic in their approach.

It is a balancing act which is not always easy, but in pragmatism, you must avoid hypocrisy, he believes. For example, do not shout about going green and then underhandedly support a cause that is in clear violation of green principles.

“It really is an integrity issue,” he says. “If you are an organisation aiming to go green, you’ve got to walk your talk. Every organisation should have a sustainability chief, a champion who reports directly to the board and is integral to the company’s financial and people management strategies.”

Again, consistently keep an eye on the data, he emphasises, and ensure in-depth knowledge within your strategic and operational teams, particularly in terms of developing technologies. Know how these emerging innovators are progressing and from where the demand is going to come.

In addition, it is important to have a clear picture of supply and demand. Understand how the country is developing versus where you are operating, and what the political environment means for the business.

“As Africans, we must put smart cities back onto our agenda for active greenfield development. Energy must fit into the entire picture of our societies, and even the most pragmatic approaches in the harshest of realities must be based on the data,” concludes Ngubevana.

Become an African Energy Leader in Africa, for Africa

The objective of sustainability is for people, planet and profits (the so-called 3 P’s) to synergistically work together. Both the Postgraduate Diploma and Master of Management in the field of Energy Leadership, provided by the African Energy Leadership Centre (AELC) at WBS, are centred around this goal.

The AELC believes that there is no better time than now to power the economy by developing the next generation of energy leaders in South Africa and Africa. Under the leadership of Professor Ngubevana, these new curricula talk to sustainability as a whole, decarbonisation, and a mutual systems thinking and approach to the African energy sector.

These specialist programmes are tailored not only for engineers but provide leadership growth for professionals in every field.

Apply now for the Postgraduate Diploma or Master of Management in the field of Energy Leadership from Wits Business School, the first specialist postgraduate programmes of their kind on the African continent. Learn more here.

This page was paid for by Wits Business School. The editorial staff of CNBC Africa had no role in the creation of this page.