Renewable Energy; The Panacea of Africa Development

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Insufficient power supply is the cancer that has eaten dip into African economy, created environment for unfair sharp practices amongst electrical equipment companies and middlemen to sabotage infrastructures in order to encourage importation of parts and equipment. This however bore licking holes on all developmental programmes on the continent.

We have read so much on UNDP’s 2015 MDGs and the argument that development should have a human face; which sounded quite brilliant. But if only 2% of the rural poor have access to electricity in this modern world, it then makes nonsense of this conception called MDGs. Nonetheless, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) has punctured UNDP’s argument by insisting that access to energy is essential in improving productivity and increasing people’s livelihood.

In a workshop in 2003 NEPAD presented an Energy Agenda declaring that there are abundant energy resources yet to be tapped in Africa especially in area of renewable energy and emphasised categorically that development should be linked with energy.

Renewable Energy should have formed part of the MDGs in the first instance because it is linked with rural development; it is environmentally friendly; it requires less investment and there are readily available natural resources – biomass, geothermal, solar, hydro, wind etc. When we understand the simplistic nature of some of these God given resources; the question must be asked why the United Nation has not given the required attention to this aspect of development. I wish we could organise a workshop and a scholarly debate on this. For clear understanding here are some of the renewal energies:

Biomass converts agricultural waste products; and or cash crops like sugar cane rice etc to ethanol a substitute for petroleum fuel through a process called Cogeneration. It is an ideal rural electrification option that is cost efficient with abundant local resources; only Mauritius has optimum utilisation of this potential in Africa as it generates 20% of its electricity from sugarcane.

Geothermal – are constant flow of energies within the earth crust examples are the molten rocks or magma and the volcanoes. It has the simple technology of drilling wells through rocks to capture high concentrated steam through pipes to power electricity generating turbines. With over 41 mountains in Africa only Kenya and Ethiopia have explored this potential. Where are the remaining 39 mountains?

Solar – arguably the cheapest energy source, most popular of the renewable energies and the answer to rural power supply; it is energy from the sun converted through Photovoltaic (PV) technology to electrical energy. It could have been the rally point of meeting energy needs in Africa since they are endowed with abundant sun energy but the astronomical cost of the photovoltaic technology had restricted patronage. Is it not astonishing that two major EU consortiums (German- Desertec Industry Initiative (DII) and French- Medgrid) are already in the Arab deserts of North Africa on a project to capture wind and solar energy to power homes in Europe? Is it not pure hypocrisy that on a daily basis European Charity organisations are soliciting aids for Africa while their governments are making big media hypes on financial assistance to Africa; relegating what should be the real aid to Africa? Is it not surprising that NEPAD is not reacting?

Wind -There has been less investment in wind turbines partly due to lack of technical skills and low wind speed across Africa; Morocco has made significant progress in this area of energy with the building of 42 km African’s largest wind farm. Many countries in North and Central Africa are seriously considering the option.

It is rather unfortunate that the immediate economic values of oil and gas from export encouraged over dependence on this sector thereby dwarfing the realisation of the right technology that could develop other areas mentioned above. However, UN made an attempt in putting renewable energy in the front burner in the past with the signing of the United Nation Framework Convention for Climate Change by 155 heads of government in 1999. Initially there were lukewarm attitude from major oil exporters in Africa -Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, Angola and Cameroon. Subsequently a decision was made in 2002 during the World Economic Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg requesting every country to commit 10% of its national energy supply from renewable energy.

By 2011, the situation has not changed; about 15% of Africans still do not have electricity with exception of South Africa and North Africa.

Ironically USA, the biggest donor to UN, is the home of Caterpillar, the leading player in Global Diesel Generator Sets which has its biggest market in Africa. Additionally, United States is the home of the world’s biggest research and development centre, NASA. Wouldn’t it be rational that instead of these double standards of giving aids and milking it away through multinationals that it should be converted to the development of cheap technology to achieve renewable energy in Africa? Renewal Energy is the core of development and should form the ninth 2015 Millennium Development Goal.

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