Thursday, August 23, 2012

Great essay on renewables for Africa

Africa�s untapped potential

by Ansgar Kiene*

Article | Wed, 08/22/2012 - 14:47

Alongside the severe energy crises currently being experienced by most
African countries comes a huge opportunity to direct investments into
clean, efficient, renewable energy for the growth of a green economy
in Africa.
Energy is one of the keystones for social and economic development and
affects all its major aspects, such as environmental protection,
gender equality, food security, climate change mitigation, health,
education, and poverty alleviation. This is why access to affordable,
sustainable modern energy services�electricity as well as thermal
applications�is a major determinant for progress in achieving poverty
reduction and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals
(MDGs) in Africa.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), almost two-thirds
of the African population of one billion people have no access to
electricity. In rural areas of African countries, the share of people
with access to modern energy services is as low as eight per cent.
Only four per cent of the worldwide produced electricity is generated
on the continent. On average, Africa consumes about 492 kWh per capita
compared to the EU with over 3,000 kWh; and the US which consumes
7,700 kWh per capita. With a total installed capacity of 103 GW,
Africa has less power generation capacity than, for instance, Germany
with 120 GW. Of these 103 GW, 46 per cent are located in South Africa
and 34 per cent in Northern Africa [JRC 2008].

Despite its fast-growing population and economies demanding ever more
energy, the high and ever-increasing costs of fossil fuels have lead
to a situation where 80 per cent of the African population still rely
primarily on traditional biomass, including fuel wood or charcoal,
agricultural waste and animal dung to fulfil their daily energy needs.
The consequences of the lack of access to modern energy technologies
are severe. Because of the inefficiency of traditional energy forms,
the poor often pay higher unit costs for energy in comparison. In many
cases, fuels are burned in poorly ventilated or enclosed spaces
leading to indoor air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO)
estimates that 400,000 people, mainly women and children, in Africa
die of indoor air pollution every year.

Through the unsustainable use of biomass, Africa is losing more than
four million hectares of forest every year�twice the world�s average
deforestation rate, which makes the continent even more vulnerable to
the effects of climate change. A large percentage of household incomes
is spent on energy for electricity and cooking (diesel, kerosene,
charcoal, etc). At the same time, women invest a substantial amount of
productive time in the collection and transport of fuel wood.

In order to reach the energy-poor, political and business concepts for
sustainable energy services will have to be developed. Renewable
energies can contribute to a large number of political objectives,
such as job creation and poverty eradication, sustainable use of
resources, and the protection of both human health and the ecosystem.
This is particularly true for small to medium scale renewable energy
systems that provide affordable energy to livelihoods currently
defined by energy poverty, and help in creating employment by powering
enterprises for both rural and urban populations.

The rapid expansion of renewable energies across Africa will have a
positive impact not only on the African people, its economical
progress and the protection of its environment, but also on the world
at large, leapfrogging the fossil fuel-based development of the
industrialised countries. Energy services have a significant role in
facilitating both social and economic development�energy underpins
economic activity, enhances productivity, and provides access to
markets for trading purposes. In addition, it enables fulfilment of
the basic human needs of nutrition, warmth, and lighting; and enables
access to education, health, information and communication services.
The shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies across Africa also
has the potential of giving a boost to the achievement of all eight UN

Generally, almost all African countries are going through severe
energy crises, as energy demand increases more rapidly than energy
supply. The continent�s future energy production and consumption are
expected to soar. However, infrastructure is poor and outdated,
resulting in high efficiency losses. Deficient power infrastructure
dampens economic growth and weakens competitiveness by having a
disadvantageous effect on productivity. In addition, skyrocketing
prices for fossil fuels and huge costs for nuclear power plants (as
well as the issues of hazardous waste, mining and operations) leave
societies with little alternative to renewable energies. In many
cases, large scale hydropower projects are no recommendable
alternative, considering their negative environmental and social
impacts. Since an overall energy scarcity has resulted in high costs
for transport and industrial/commercial sector operations in most
African countries, sustainable economic growth can only be achieved on
the basis of renewable energy provision for industries.

Also, empirical evidence has shown that the diversification of
electricity production in African countries such as Kenya or Mauritius
resulted in a stabilisation of the power sector. Africa�s
vulnerability to external shocks, the risks related to volatile prices
for fossil fuels, and droughts in the case of large hydropower
capacity, were reduced without high subsidies or increases in the
electricity price.

By now, many renewable energy technologies have reached competitive
levels with conventional energy sources. In order to meet the energy
needs of African people in the future, massive new investments will be
required in the coming decades. The investment decisions will decide
the structure of energy systems in the next 30 to 40 years; therefore,
we will have to use this window of opportunity to transform the
national energy systems from large scale conventional power plants to
decentralised renewable energy technologies. These offer great
economic potential in an expanding market, as the renewable energy
resources in Africa have hardly been exploited, mainly due to limited
policy interest and investment levels.

Business is a main driver of development. One recent example is the
massive success of the mobile phone market in Africa, which is
exceeding all expectations. New technologies, a huge demand and the
liberalisation of the telecommunications sector, supporting active
competition, revolutionised the market drastically and led not only to
improved service delivery and quality but to a surge in overall
business activities.

Drawing on this success story, individual entrepreneurs as well as
major corporations are offering demand driven, tailor-made energy
services in Africa�applications from solar home systems providing
basic lighting to wind farms powering industrial production.
Innovative financial schemes are being developed; new distribution and
service networks are being established to guarantee maintenance. In
addition to the activities of the private sector, communities and
municipalities have begun to decide on alternative energy provision,
fostering social stability through local empowerment and public

Africa�s energy challenges require a radical scaling-up of access
which calls for an improved enabling environment, effective policy and
regulatory frameworks, improved management capacities and financial
services. Keeping in mind the unlimited renewable energy availability,
there is a huge opportunity to direct investments into clean,
efficient, renewable energy for the growth of a green economy in Africa.

*Ansgar Kiene is director of the World Future Council Africa and
coordinator of the African Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA).

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1 comment:

  1. Fossil fuels must go in the grand scheme of keeping the earth alive, its like mitt romney becoming president, if that happens, we're screwed. If we keep using fossil fuels, we're screwed.

    -Sharone Tal
    Solar NJ