Africa gears up Energy Revolution

  • December 5, 2016

“We can no longer tinker about the edges. We can no longer continue feeding our addiction to fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. For there will be no tomorrow. As a matter of urgency we must begin a global transition to a new safe energy economy. This requires fundamentally rethinking our economic systems, to put them on a sustainable and more equitable footing. ”Desmond Tutu, Human Rights activist and Nobel Prize winner

Africa’s energy challenge requires more power Africa confronts an enormous energy challenge. Africa’s growing population and economic progress has elevated the energy demands posing an uphill challenge for the continent. To meet its energy needs, a significant increase in the supply of energy with a contribution from all energy forms must be made. Sustainable energy development is certainly a shot to pursue for a long term opulence. All possible efforts should be made to build the energy systems needed to sustain growth, create employment, uplift the economy and eradicate poverty. With continuously deteriorating climate there is a need to redefine the relationship between development and energy. Fortunately, Africa is richly endowed with renewable energy sources, and the time is ripe for an accurate planning to ensure the right mix of energy. Decisions made today will enhance the continent’s energy stock in the coming years.

The world is now accepting and welcoming modern renewable energy technologies. Although environmental and energy security concerns can be attributed to the fact that they need to be supported, and in a rising number of situations, they are now foreseen as the most economic option on priority basis. The use of modern renewables is growing in Africa; as such harboring this growth is most essential. African countries are in a unique position; they have the potential to rise above the traditional consolidatedutility model for energy provision.

Power and Energy sector is the most palpable player for an energy transformation. A complete makeover of Africa’s energy supply can be executed with increased renewable energy ingression across the sector, and would provide ample socio-economic gains. Their biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar or wind resources comprise the resource base for renewables in Africa. Abundant and high quality renewables contribute to economically competitive status of Africa, in particular as the costs of renewable technologies are rapidly decreasing.

The confined potential of modern renewables to empower local communities is inevitable. These resources can be harnessed locally at a small scale, contributing to rural development and electrification without the cost of extending national grids to remote places. Local projects also offer economic opportunities to locals. However, for accomplishing this, it requires clear policy signals, positive framework of laws, regulations and institutional set-ups as well as viable business schemes to ensure accelerated renewables deployment.

Apart from the climatic catastrophe awaiting to befall this earth planet, our continued reliance on oil and gas along with traditional biomass combustion for energy will bring considerable social, economic and environmental constraints. As a promising sign of things to come, several African countries have already succeeded in making steps necessary to scale up renewables, such as adoption of support policies, investment promotion and regional collaboration. By making the right decisions today, African countries can usher in a sustainable energy landscape for generations to come.

The energy map of Africa

For Africa, demand for energy has simultaneously progressed along with rapid economic growth and keeping pace with the rising energy need is the foremost agenda for the policy makers to balance the economic growth and make the modern energy reach the households having no access as yet. The challenges faced by the continent are not soft. Supply lags demand, and in as many as 30 countries in Africa recurrent electricity outages and load shedding are the norm. About 600 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity, and approximately 730 million people rely on traditional uses of biomass (based on IEA, 2014a).

Biomass and fossil fuels are the most visible and accessible sources to meet the current energy needs of the continent. Biomass accounts for approximately half of Africa’s total primary energy supply. Coal and natural gas account for about 14% each, and oil approximately 22%. Hydropower represents about 1% of the total primary energy supply in Africa.The primary energy is increasing by approximately 3% annually which is the highest among all the continents

Addressing the massive potential in renewable resources

“Over 600 million people still do not have access to modern energy. It is shocking that Sub-Saharan Africa’s electricity consumption is less than that of Spain and on current trends it will take until 2080 for every African to have access to electricity. Modern energy also means clean cooking facilities that don’t pollute household air. An estimated 600,000 Africans die each year as a result of household air pollution, half of those are the children under the age of five. On current trends, universal access to non-polluting cooking will not happen until the middle of the 22nd century”, Kofi Anan, Africa Progress Report 2015.

Renewable energy resources as well as fossils are abundantly available across Africa, varying in types across diverse geographical areas, boosting the use of modern renewable energy technologies. Attributing to the presence and availability, solar resources are not the types of resources that are hard to find. Biomass and hydropower sources are better available in the wet, forested central and southern regions. Biomass falls into three categories: wood fuel; agricultural and industrial residues; and energy crops Wind resources are of the highest quality in the north, the east, and the southern regions, while geothermal energy is concentrated along the Great Rift Valley. The renewable energy sources and the geographical areas in which they exist can help in structuring country specific renewable energy solutions.

Solar Energy

Africa’s solar resources can be used for generation of electricity as well as other applications of thermal energy. Africa witnesses enormous solar exposure, the desert regions of North Africa and some parts of Southern and East Africa enjoy particularly long sunny days with a high intensity of irradiation. Solar energy has the capacity to be utilized at various level; from the household and community levels to industrial and national scale operations.

Wind Energy

Wind turbines use the high velocity winds to generate electricity or directly power pumps and other machineries. As compared to hydropower, wind power stationing and formation is very limited. The harsh desert conditions are the barrier in long term operation of wind turbines. There are a few areas that incorporate the high quality wind resources. Countries with such high wind quality wind resources include all those in North Africa; Niger in West Africa; Chad in Central Africa; Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Uganda in East Africa; and in Southern Africa Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. Morocco still has the largest installed wind capacity in Africa. Till 2013, total installed wind capacity in Africa was 1 460 MW. In 2014, a new capacity was installed, bringing the total to 2 460 MW by the end of 2014 (IRENA, 2015b)The offshore wind energy potential is best off the coast of Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Angola and South Africa. Small domestic markets and undeveloped power grids are few visible factors which lead to limited deployment of wind power.

Using Wind Power for Water Pumping: In agricultural sector, usage of wind power to pump water is a well-known off grid application of the wind energy, particularly in Southern Africa. The whole mechanism is very low maintenance and cost effective; as compared to diesel pumping, water pumping which is 25-30% less expensive.

Hydropower

Hydropower is the most abundant and widely used renewable energy source. Attributing to its large scale potential and low average cost of the generated electricity, hydropower remains the most cost effective technology when it comes to both renewable and non-renewable ones. Hydropower is dependent on a constant reliable supply of water, and periods of drought have a detrimental effect on the availability of hydropower stations. Depending on the size of the resources, hydropower can be utilized in different ways. Large-scale hydro resources are often utilised in combination with a storage dam and are suitable for the production of grid electricity. Small hydro plants, may or may not incorporate dam. Hydropower is an effective source to fulfill the demands of large scale industry.

Geothermal

Kenya is the storehouse of geothermal technology capacity building and is also considered to host the ‘Centre of Excellence’ for Geothermal Development in Africa. Power generation from geothermal sources in Kenya accounted for more than half of Kenya’s electricity output in December 2014. Although geothermal accounts for a very small fraction of Africa’s energy resources, Africa’s huge potential forms a very fertile ground for investors as well as the projects to harness this source of energy.

Other commonly known resources of energy employed to use by the African continent are coal, wood fuel, Biomass waste, Crude oil and other oil products.

Africa holds the power to shape its future

Africa’s economies are growing currently at an average rate of 4% per year. Six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies over the past decade were in sub-Saharan Africa. If this growth is maintained, Africa’s GDP would increase roughly 3-fold by 2030 and 7-fold by 2050. However, sustaining such growth will only be possible if fuelled by a much larger and better performing energy sector. Africans currently consume only one quarter of the global average energy per capita, using a mix of hydropower, fossil fuels and biomass – mostly in traditional uses.

Economic growth and electricity consumption are intimately linked together. Decisions concerning the development of the African energy sector will have long-term implications for individual welfare, national economic development, and greenhouse gas emissions because investment in energy infrastructure lasts for several decades.

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