Africa will lead by example in the Renewable Energy transformation


The Paris agreement has been widely praised as an historic agreement, as “the world’s greatest diplomatic success”. For the first time, all nations have come together “to curb emissions, strengthen resilience and join in common cause to take common climate action”, said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon after the announcement of the agreement.

But one of the key protagonists that should be really praised for is Africa, whose nations showed a clear standing and commitment for the scaling up of renewable energy. Indeed, the African delegation has been the only one setting themselves a mandate to increase RE in the COP21 negotiation text, “acknowledging the need to promote universal access to sustainable energy”. Africa is telling the world that they will lead by example. And there is no better approach than betting on Renewables.

This is why the Africa Group of Negotiators also presented in Paris the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, “to help African countries advance “towards renewable energy systems that support their low-carbon development strategies while enhancing economic and energy security”. Its goal is to produce 300 gigawatts (GW) of electricity from renewable energy sources for the continent by 2030. And to be a real “game-changer” helping the continent to “achieve sustainable development, enhance well-being and sound economic development by ensuring universal access to sufficient amounts of clean, appropriate and affordable energy”

As succinctly pointed out by the World Bank, less than 25% of the population in sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity. Consequently, the vast majority of households continue to rely for their energy consumption on traditional biomass, such as firewood and charcoal, or kerosene, which unsurprisingly increases social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities. In addition to this, the poor reliability of the electricity sector translates into economic loses for African manufacturing enterprises (as high as 20 percent) and recurrent power outages (on average 56 days per year).

This situation is compounded by the high cost of producing electricity, with tariffs falling in the range of US$0.13 per kilowatt-hour, as opposed to US$0.04 to US$0.08 per kilowatt-hour in most parts of the developing world. In Tanzania, for example, this reality translates into the poor spending about 35% of their household income on energy while the better-off spend only 14%. And, even those connected to the grid opt nevertheless for burning cheaper biomass in an attempt to avoid paying high electricity prices.

Promoting renewable energy solutions can therefore help African countries leapfrog the dirty development pathways, avoiding the environmental problems of unsustainable energy sources, the high costs of electricity generation, and the unnecessary costs of building long distance transmission lines to provide energy access to remote areas. And overall, it provides a window of opportunity to address the energy and development needs of the continent.

This position was also widely shared by the 22 parliamentarians from across Africa attending the workshop “Sustainability, Energy and Development”, organised in Nairobi in November 10-13 by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK, in collaboration with UNDP and the National Assembly of Kenya. And in which the WFC participated. As expressed by Agnes Mpingana Kafula, MP from Namibia “access to energy does not automatically lift people out of poverty, but the evidence points that either directly or indirectly, access to modern, affordable energy is linked to income generation”.

To better understand the links between renewable energy, sustainability and socio-economic development, a study tour was organised to the Eco-manyatta project, a sustainable pro-poor housing project targeted at pastoral and Maasai communities in Kenya to improve their conditions and living standards. The project has been launched in the Narok County, which sits in one of the most degraded part of the Mau Forest, and is experiencing extremes in weather patterns and the problems that come with it that do aggravate the problems of development: droughts, food insecurity, loss of biodiversity, displacement of communities in search of water and pasture. Moreover, forest degradations had led to regular floods and landslides.

The project utilises locally available and environmentally friendly materials, clean gas for cooking using biomass made from cow dung and solar lighting systems. And it has the ability of harvesting and storing rain water. Equally important, it has involved the pastoral community since the inception phase of the project. Taking into account the community’s vision has allowed to make it practically operational. While still in its pilot phase, the aim is to replicate and expand the Eco-manyatta project further. As emphasised during the workshop by Alice Mwaisaka, National Project Coordinator at the International Labour Organisation Kenya, “The Eco-manyatta has the potential to improve health and hygiene in a community where the life expectancy barely reaches 56 years for men and 54 for women. Furthermore, thanks to access to good lighting, children are now able to study after school, providing hope for further education”.

This is only one inspiring example showcasing how African communities have taken a proactive role, and have decided to make use of the vast renewable energy sources the continent is endowed with to address their social, economic and environmental problems. But, there are many more like this.

Take the case of Kasese, in Uganda, where the mayor has set the goal to shift his city to 100% renewable energy by 2020; or the community of Ouelessebougou, 80 km south of Bamako, in Mali, which in 2011 partnered with the national utility and a private solar company, ZED Mali-SA to build, install and operate a supplementary 216 KW peak solar PV plant to provide electricity during daylight hours. The PV plant also charges a bank of 73 batteries. And, all together, it ensures electricity supply from solar power for 18 hours a day. The same reasons encouraged the government of Cape Verde to set a 100% RE strategy by 2020. The island focused on both new sources of generation, as well as a combination of energy storage and estimated a total investment of €1.272 million, with all generation and storage projects included, which results in a levelised cost of energy (LCOE) between €0.104/kWh and 0.189/kWh, depending on which island is considered. A figure which is significantly less than the current LCOE of electricity generation using heavy fuel oil (€0.19/kWh), and diesel (€0.30/kWh).

For too long, the dominant model of growth in the continent has been heavily reliant on fossil fuels. But African leaders know that old recipes won’t work for their countries anymore and they are acting accordingly. This is very good news. Now the next step is to ensure through the right regulations, policies and incentives that this energy transformation serves the needs of the people and facilitate ‘the required system change’, from a centralised complex system, where supply chain is vertical, and the benefits are shared only among a few stakeholders to a decentralised one, with a horizontal supply chain, where new actors and stakeholders, including individual citizens and small businesses, enter the system, claim rights, and have direct impacts. This question is relevant in every country, region, city and community on the renewable energy track. But especially in Africa where affordable, accessible and clean energy is critical for the continent’s development.






Thursday, December 17th, 2015