7 Ideas to change Africa’s Energy CrisisElvis Paul Nfor TANGEM
A recent African Union report stated that the continent is endowed with vast sources of energy. It is estimated that 1,700 Terawatts of hydropower and 14,000 Megawatts of geothermal potential exists. Biomass, solar, wind and wave energy adds significantly to Africa's renewable energy opportunities. Despite these enormous resources Africa continues to face critical energy challenges. Current energy policies have failed to provide the platforms needed to support the economic development of Africa’s poor. This is primarily due to a lack of modern energy services, poor infrastructure, low purchasing power and high investment costs. Poverty reduction remains the core issue of Africa’s development agenda. Economic and social development cannot be achieved in the absence of adequate energy supplies. Renewable energy can play a major part in Africa’s energy crisis for the following reasons:
- By investing into distributed alternative energy infrastructures rather than large scale, environmentally destructive coal and hydro facilities, African nations could benefit significantly in the short and longer term by avoiding the unsustainable economic declines most developed countries are currently facing.
- Localized, distributed, renewable energy is easier to scale and fund for areas with little or no access to grid electricity. Mega power projects along with their power distribution infrastructures have significantly higher costs due to the absorbanent investments needed to implement and maintain. In comparison, renewable distributed energy systems are relatively cheap to exploit and does not require high risk, multi-billion dollar infrastructure investments.
- Solar and wind power are extremely scalable. Systems are available from less than 1 watt to several megawatts. Electrification of a home or village requires minimal initial investment and allows for dynamic, incremental, affordable scaling as load demands increase. Wind and solar power systems are easy to setup, operate, repair and can last thirty plus years.
- For poor families, renewable energy sources have proven to be cheaper than traditional energy sources which currently consume more than 50% of their incomes. Renewable energy eliminates the effort people spend fetching wood and water, thereby losing precious time they could otherwise devote to schooling, farming, planting trees and revenue generating activities.
- Distributed micro scale wind and solar provide redundancies which improves the reliability of the overall system. For example, if a single panel in a multi panel solar array is damaged, the rest of the system continues functioning unimpeded. In a similar way, the failure of a single wind turbine in a multi tower configuration does not cause a complete system level failure.
- Small scale solar and wind provides power where it is used making it inherently safer and a more reliable, cost-effective solution. Expensive transmission equipment is avoided thus, these systems are less vulnerable to hostile attack or theft which can be an important feature in regions prone to conflict.
- Small scale, distributed, wind and solar resources can provide most energy needs to rural African populations in remote and otherwise fragmented low density areas that are impractical to address using conventional grid based systems.
While not being an exhaustive list of merits, it is fair to conclude that embracing Renewable Energy will go a long way in achieving the Millennium Development Goals for Africa.
“There is no doubt that renewable energy in Africa can make a significant contribution to the continent’s energy supply”
K K. Yumkella Director-General, UNIDO
Elvis Paul Nfor TANGEM served as the Development Manager for TREE AID in West Africa, Technical Adviser for United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Holds a Masters of Philosophy in Forest Ecology and Management from the University of Edinburgh Scotland and is now the African Development Director for Venger Wind. In his spare time Elvis likes cooking, socializing, Nature watching, reading and writing.