Africa faces the greater challenge of energy access, energy availability and energy affordability than all the rest of the world. Assessment undertaken in 2008, Africa was the lowest per capita energy consumer averaging 0.66 tons of oil equivalents (TOE) compared to the global average of 1.8 TOE. The greater challenge to energy development especially renewable energy is weak or lack of policy and effective renewable energy development institutions, low technology acquisition, low investment and inadequate financing. Government policy and unfavorable political good will rank higher as factors.
Successful development of renewable energy requires strong political will, government regulatory and fiscal muscle, incentives for private sector, innovative financing, considering the opportunity in clean development mechanism and technical capacity building. Policy makers in African governments have not given adequate attention to the potential of meeting renewable energy challenges of Africa. The continent is endowed with vast renewable energy resources, the continent has 1,750 TWh potential for hydropower and 14,000 MW potential geothermal, and potential for solar throughout the year. Wind power potential is also abundant.
The global increase in oil prices impacts greater in African economies, this is because renewable energy still limited. Over 60 countries in the world have renewable energy policy, European countries and Japan have targets for development of biofuels in the transport sector and 17 countries have mandated and achieved blending of biofuels. The EU countries have ambitiously made approaches to increase share of renewable energy to 20 percent of the total energy consumption by 2020 and in particular the target to increase biofuels in the transport sector to 10 percent within the same period. There is inherent lack of initiatives in Africa to this end.
There are two approaches to renewable energy development by government that Africa is required to undertake. Large scale renewable energy systems for hydropower, modern biomass, geothermal, wind and solar connected to the grid. Currently it’s only hydropower and some little geothermal power that comprise grid power in Africa. Government policies have neglected potential power sources like biomass, solar and wind contribution to power on the grid. Biomass energy can be utilized in large scale power applications. Agro based industries such as wood industries, palm produce, rice mills, sugar, paper and pulp can use the waste products to generate tremendous quantity of electricity to the grid in Africa. Co-generation from agriculture waste holds great potential in Africa. In a good attempt cogeneration contributes to 40 percent of electricity need of Mauritius. Most African countries have developed power from sugar industries, but the continents potential for sugar mill power is greater awaiting investment. However the challenge to large scale renewable energy development is large infrastructure cost. Currently less than US Dollars 1 billion of the global US Dollars 100 billion of global renewable energy investment has been in Africa. Africa lags behind in wind power development, for most African states feasibility study mapping wind power potential has not been done. By 2008 Africa had developed only 476 MW of installed wind power electricity generation capacity compared to the global estimate of 93,900 MW. Countries that have pursued wind energy development are Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, South Africa and Ethiopia. All African cities are bedeviled with garbage, yet garbage has huge potential of green energy generation. Detailed feasibility studies have established that Africa has greater potential for solar power than all other regions of the world, yet its only South Africa and Egypt which have attempted to develop solar thermal plants.
The other strategy for green energy development is small scale systems. Small solar systems such as home solar energy supply is fairing on well in South African and Kenya. South Africa has 11,000kWp and Kenya 3,600kWp, these are among the better in Africa. Biogas digesters suffer insufficient feed stock in all countries in Africa. However pilot biogas projects have been implemented in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Ethiopia, Senegal and Rwanda. All these pilots demonstrate the potential of biogas in Africa. In Ghana a pilot project known as Appolonia of biogas generates 12.5KW electric power which is fed into the local grid, supplying electricity at 230 V for domestic use in 21 homes, street lights and social centers in the community. The biogas is produced from cow dung, two diesel engines of 8kW each were modified to operate on dual fuel (mixture of biogas and diesel).
The project shows that the diesel-biogas system saves 66 percent in diesel consumption compared to pure diesel generation. The Biogas for Africa Project is mobilizing stakeholders in scaling up biogas digesters. Educating the African community on green energy and building enabling conditions for private sector is the way forward to small scale green energy development. The NGOs can play the role. Small scale energy supply biomass is important, but there is competing land use for agriculture and forestry, and on the other side between energy feedstock and food production. Energy challenge in Africa for the rural poor is deforestation and rapidly rising fuel wood prices and the lack of alternative energy sources. Focusing biomass from charcoal in Mali and from rice in Senegal and cashew nuts in Guinea Bissau for generating electricity as examples, it’s important for national bioenergy strategies to be developed all over Africa and public private partnerships. End of oil age and the advent of green energy is possible in Africa. Cassava is Africa’s poor man’s crop, but in Asia cassava has proven a biofuel source, so Africa is yet to commercialize the crop for energy and food security. The development of jastropha for biodiesel is potential in all African countries, but public education on potential of green energy is required to enable stakeholders in private sector and public sector exploit the opportunity.
A pilot project to develop jastropha in Kenya coast met resistance by environmentalists yet potential of any project is proven by environment audit mandatory in all projects in Kenya. However the short term effort in biodiesel development will involve developing crops that already exist in Africa. Renewable energy technology development and technology transfer will be successful in the market model with innovative social market hybrids for small scale technologies, innovative credit schemes and venture capital, skills development at university level and local skills development through short vocational training. Governments can create national institutions for green energy development, incentives for ago industry co generations, public sector financing for large scale projects and political mandate to drive the process.