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  • on 08.05.2012
  • at 11:08 AM
  • by Randa Ghazy

Renewable energy potential in Africa 0

The extreme energy poverty in most African countries is a major opportunity for them to leapfrog into electricity via renewable energy technologies indicates Ansgar Kiene, Coordinator of the African Renewable Energy Alliance.

Africa’s leapfrog to mobile technology when landlines were constrained provides an example of what could happen with renewable energies.

Kiene says that solar technologies have the largest potential on the continent. However, depending on the region in Africa, other renewable technologies also provide great opportunities. For example, wind technologies work along coastlines and the Rift Valley in East Africa from Kenya to Malawi is suitable for geothermal power.

According to the Africa Energy Outlook 2040 by Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), energy demand will grow 8.9% per annum. Also, access to energy is only 39% in Sub-Saharan Africa, suggesting pent-up demand.

The two primary markets for energy are industry and households. Most of the major energy projects on the continent are focused on the industry market as governments realize they can generate revenue immediately from industry whereas sufficient revenue from households may have longer time horizons.

Also, many of these projects are focused on fossil fuels or hydropower, a renewable energy option but one that has issues of concern like displacement of people and potential environmental degradation.

While renewable energy can serve both industry and households, it may be the household or small-scale industry market that causes renewable energy to take off. Kiene points out that it is quite expensive for governments to connect rural areas to electrical grids. Even if they succeed in connecting all households, the cost of maintenance could easily make it unsustainable.

However, many renewable energy options provide off-grid solutions, e.g., solar panels on houses, or even micro-grid solutions for communities.

One issue for implementation of renewable energy technologies is the upfront cost compared to traditional energy options. Kiene points out, however, that the energy is virtually free going forward.

Kiene suggests that the diesel generation market in Nigeria demonstrates that there is enough money to fuel the renewable energy sector. In Nigeria alone, there are over 1 million diesel generators (larger ones used in industry) that are used every day. At a price of $5.00 per gallon and use of two gallons per week (a very low use threshold), this translates to $520 million a year. It can easily be imagined that usage is 10 times as much.

If just one year’s diesel revenue was dedicated to implement renewable energy solutions, there would be enough funds to kick start renewable energy projects across Nigeria.

In some countries like South Africa and Kenya, they have feeder schemes in which the public utilities purchase electricity from independent producers. These producers use different technologies from biomass to solar and scale from households that produce excess electricity to energy plants. With feeder schemes, project developers can easily demonstrate how revenue will be generated from day one, making projects more viable in the eyes of investors.

The renewable energy market is still quite challenged in Africa. But undoubtedly as fuel prices and energy shortages continue to plague the continent, these issues will engender innovative solutions to the energy problems and renewable energy solutions are ready and waiting.

Source: Africa the good news

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