Renewable energy critical in lighting up Africa
U.N. officials have called for favorable policies to shift investments from oil-powered energy generation to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind in an effort to fill the gap in accessing the key economic resource.
The U.N. officials also called for the opening up energy markets to private sector investment through the introduction of smart government policies which they said will be the key to unlocking Africa’s massive renewable energy potential.
The UN Environment Program (UNEP), which released a report in Nairobi on Tuesday on renewable energy on the sidelines of the U.N. Governing Council meeting, said a paradigm shift was required to focus investments into renewable energy from fossil fuels.
“There is green energy policy. A shift in thinking is required at the heart of energy. The more fossil fuels the more expensive. The more renewable energy, the cheaper,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said during the release of the report.
By reforming the energy sector, millions can be lifted out of poverty and the sustainable development potential of Africa far sooner realized, the report said. The release of the report marked the Africa launch of the U.N. 2012 International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Norwegian Environment Minister Erik Solheim, who attended the report launch, said over-reliance on the supply of fossil fuels would hurt the environment and consign more people to poverty. “Renewable energy can change the way our rural areas are integrated into the national economy,” Solheim told journalists.
The UNEP report is entitled “Financing Renewable Energy in Developing Countries: Drivers and Barriers for Private Finance in sub-Saharan Africa”. The report explains how obstacles to increasing sustainable energy solutions in Africa -- such as the cost of electricity generation or difficult grid access - can be tackled.
To meet the growing energy demands, the power sector in Africa needs to install an estimated 7,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation capacity each year. The report argues that much of this can come from Africa’s wealth of untapped, domestic renewable resources. Cape Verde, Kenya, Madagascar, Sudan and Chad have particularly significant potential, says the study.
Mauritania’s wind energy potential is almost four times its annual energy need, while Sudan’s is equivalent to 90 percent of its annual energy needs. “This offers both opportunities to improve energy security and create regional markets,” the U.N officials said. Steiner said accelerating and scaling-up sustainable energy for all will be key to realizing a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy.
Speaking during the report launch, Dr Adnan Amin, the director- general of the U.N. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), said he was pleased with the urgent shift towards renewable energy in parts of Africa. “Africa has the lowest rate of electricity consumption,” Amin said. Some 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity - and 45 percent of those live in Africa. However, Africa has abundant renewable resources that, “with the right kind of public policies in place, can unlock a new development future and light up the lives and the livelihoods of millions of people,” Steiner said.
The report was based on a survey of 38 institutions, mostly from the private sector, which are all involved in energy infrastructure finance in poor countries. U.N. experts said African countries needed to tackle the issues of currency exchange rate, which affect the pricing of energy products, especially oil products. In Kenya, a government feed-in tariff introduced in 2008 to expand renewable energy power generation in the country, will incentivize an estimated additional energy generation capacity of 1,300 Megawatts (MW) -- more than double Kenya’s present capacity.