Energy crises - Lessons from Africa : Can Renewable Energy help deliver A sustainable solution? | Sunday Observer

Energy crises - Lessons from Africa : Can Renewable Energy help deliver A sustainable solution?

Can Renewable Energy help deliver a sustainable solution for energy crises? While this is a debatable ongoing issue among high-level policymakers around the world, the frequently heard answer in this part of the world is ‘No’. But why? It’s simply because of the many challenges associated with renewable energy.

To name a few, higher initial investments, decentralised distribution, instability and unpredictability of energy sources… and the list goes on. True enough, there are challenges associated with the renewable energy power sector, but they are more or less common for most developing countries.

The African countries exemplified in this article have more socio-economic issues associated with poverty, from which they are still struggling. Yet, irrespective of such challenges, they have taken very bold decisions and committed beyond their comfort zone to become activated. Sri Lanka, as a nation that achieved the middle-income status, has lessons to learn from Africa’s developing nations, specifically in the renewable energy power sector.

Through this article, I hope to challenge the myth on the excuses such as financial and technological constraints we hear every day in the industry, in fostering the renewable energy power sector as a solution to energy crises.

Introduction to Africa

The African continent is rich with human capital, having 1.1 billion people living in the region, and blessed with abundant natural resources (e.g. oil, natural gas, platinum, and gold). While the story looks bright, Africa currently faces numerous challenges, specifically in energy poverty. World Bank statistics claims that nearly 70% of the African’s have no access to electricity, and 90 million children go to school without access to electricity. While the challenge is enormous for the African continent, this challenge itself has made the African’s to take remarkable measures to fight against energy poverty.

As per the current plan, over the period to 2040, 950 million people are projected to gain access to electricity in sub-Sahara Africa.

The following cases are a few examples that illustrate Africa’s role in sustaining environment-friendly solutions for energy crises.

Bioenergy production-Nigeria

With 80 million hectares of land, plenty of water reserves (263 billion cubic meters), and cheap labour, Nigeria is targeting to be a major player in the global food market. Already, the country is the largest producer of cassava (cassava is the third-largest source of food carbohydrates, after rice and maize). On average, the country produces 40 million metric tons of cassava annually.

In 2016, under the nation’s national biofuels strategy, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) announced plans to set up a bio-refinery that will use agricultural products to produce ethanol and other products such as biodiesel.

Today, Nigeria produces 30,000 litres of ethanol per day using 225 to 250 tons of cassava. With the involvement of private investors, the Nigerian government is also planning to build a biodiesel plant in Kogi State using Jatropha as feedstock. While the booming bioenergy industry contributes to the nation’s escalating energy demand, it has created income opportunities for agro-entrepreneurs.

Over 8,000 farmers are currently involved in the programme that has created more than 40,000 indirect jobs. While the country suffered from severe food shortages about a decade ago, the Nigerian government’s long-term strategies enabled the country, not only to become a major competitor in the global food market, but also to challenge the country’s energy poverty through agricultural production.

Wind Energy-Kenya

Lake Turkana was an unused land in the north of Kenya where the wind blows consistently from the south-east at an average speed of 11m/sec.

This has been an untapped renewable energy source over the centuries, but today, with the financial contribution of the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, along with various local and international associations, the country is about to pump in up to 310MW of electricity into the Kenyan electricity grid.

The proposed project comprises of 365 wind turbines, each with a capacity of 850kW, and the Denmark wind turbine developer, Vestas, will be the central technology partner for this project. Once complete, this will be the largest single wind farm in the African continent and is expected to save up to USD 30 million for the Kenyan government, currently spent on diesel-power generators to bridge the power shortage gap.

Though the Kenyan government lacked sufficient funds to invest in such a massive project, the Lake Turkana Wind Project showed some innovation in how the liquidity risk was managed (by a combination of letters-of-credit and escrow account arrangements) that demonstrated some out-of-the-box thinking by the government.

Biothermal, Hydro-Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a country that suffered from poverty decades ago; but now it has the world’s fastest-growing economy with a forecasted GDP growth rate of 8.3% in 2017 (for comparison purposes, Sri Lanka’s growth rate is about 4.7% in 2017).

As per the financial analysts, Ethiopia’s energy export sector contributes to almost 7% of the economic growth.

Since 2014, the country has paid prime attention towards exporting electricity to neighbouring countries such as Djibouti, Kenya, and Sudan.

It is also establishing grid links with South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Yemen. Currently, Ethiopia is working to become the top energy exporter in the continent by utilising its hydro and geothermal power sources.

With the exploitable hydropower potential of 45,000 MW, Ethiopia already has installed a 2,300 MW capacity. Determined to increase the access, the Ethiopian government has undertaken bold programmes to develop renewables.

Recent power projects include the 1,870 MW Gibe III hydropower plant on the Omo River, and anticipates further expansion.

In addition to hydropower, Ethiopia shares the geothermal riches of the Great Rift Valley with Kenya. In 2015, the country pushed the agenda by signing a 500 MW power purchase agreement for the first phase of the Corbetti Geothermal Power Project, expected to build in two stages within 8 to 10 years.

Although the contribution of Ethiopia to the world green power revolution can be considered as small, its commitment to motivate other countries to follow suit is exemplary.

Lessons for Sri Lanka

The global energy revolution is imminent with countries implementing new measures and adopting more independent and sustainable ways of producing energy. While Africa is infinitely at the centre of the debate, many countries in the continent still lack basic access to energy resources.

But, as shown above, the current challenges we face today can be overcome with innovative solutions along with long-lasting government policies.

In 1995, Sri Lanka generated 95% of electricity usage using hydro-power sources. However, after 23 years, in January 2018, nearly 72% of the electricity demand of the country is catered for using coal and oil power sources. True enough, several reasons such as escalating energy demand led us to this transition from sustainable energy to dark energy. Nevertheless, does that mean we cannot get rid of the fossil fuel trap to a more sustainable energy future? As exemplified in the African examples, the world is taking a radical turn towards more sustainable energy sources.In fact, today the world adds more renewable power capacity annually than it added (net) capacity from all fossil fuels combined. For example, in 2016, renewable accounted for an estimated approximate of 62% of net additions to global power-generating capacity.

Having observed the world’s movement towards sustainable energy solutions, it seems Sri Lanka is attempting to sail against the waves of renewable tides to a more fossil fuel-based economy. However, we still have the opportunity to stop and reconsider.

I believe, if Sri Lanka is to head towards a more sustainable energy solution, we clearly must elect a radical turn to where we left 23 years ago.

(The writer, MPhil (Kelaniya), M.Sc. (La Trobe, Australia), B.Sc. (Kelaniya), CIMA, SLIIT (Diploma) is a lecturer at the Department of Industrial Management, University of Kelaniya. He is currently persuing his Ph.D. (International Business) at Newcastle University, Australia.

He can be reached via [email protected])