Strategies to Scale-up Renewable Energy Market in Africa

Etiosa Uyigue
Friday, April 11, 2008

A position paper developed by NGOs and other stakeholders for the International Conference on Renewable Energy in Africa, 16-18 April 2008, Dakar, Senegal

Coordinated by Community Research and Development Centre, Nigeria


Energy is essential for socio-economic, human and technological development. Although there is no MDG on energy, access to energy is a fundamental ingredient to achieve the MDGs. Access to clean modern energy services is an enormous challenge facing the African continent. Africa accounts for about 3% of world energy consumption, the lowest per capita modern energy consumption in the world. On the other hand, in terms of biomass energy consumption, the African continent has the highest share in the world (59% of total energy consumed is biomass). The energy-deprived people are the world’s most impoverished, living on less than $2 per day with majority living in sub-Sahara Africa.

Africa’s electricity consumption remains low, about 8% of global electricity consumption. The majority of the African population does not have access to electricity. In the year 2000, only 22.6% of the population in sub-Sahara Africa had access to electricity, compared with Asia – 40.8%, Latin America – 86.6% and Middle East – 91.1%. Lack of access to electricity inflate production cost and make competition in the global market difficult for developing countries. On the supply side, Africa’s energy profile shows low production and huge untapped potential. The continent has one of the highest levels of average annual solar radiation; 95% of the daily global sunshine above 6.5kWh/m2 falls on Africa during winter. The African energy situation is characterized by a high rate of demand driven mainly by demographic factors, while supply lags significantly behind. About 11.3% of the electricity generated in Africa is wasted compared with world’s average of 9.2%.

There is significant variation in energy consumption among the different regions and countries in Africa. For example, electricity consumption in Sub-Saharan Africa amounts to only 2.9% of total energy consumption, while in North Africa is 15.1% and in South Africa is 25.9%. The reliance on biomass is highest in Sub-Sahara Africa (81.2%). North Africa and South Africa consume 4.1% and 16.5% of biomass respectively of their total energy budget2. Thus sub-Sahara Africa continues to rely heavily on biomass. More worrisome is the use of biomass in an unsustainable and in inefficient way. This over-reliance and unsustainable use of traditional biomass fuel leads to a low levels of energy efficiency and ability to mitigate climate change and high levels of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and health hazards due to indoor air pollution.

In the energy crisis, women and children are the most affected. In many African societies, women and children are responsible for fetching firewood to meet domestic energy needs. Women make up 70% of the 1.3 billion poor people and women’s livelihood can only be sustained by access to energy. Women and children become vulnerable to respiratory disorders and other adverse health conditions. Worldwide, 1.6 million people die each year due to the health and respiratory effects from indoor air pollution3. During the time of fuel scarcity, female children over male children are withdrawn from school to support family energy needs. Illiterate women have more children, larger and poorer families and this reinforces the cycle of poverty and under development. The provision of accessible energy options will therefore save them time and hard labour. Time previously used for wood collection and related tasks can then be applied in other productive activities such as adult literacy and skills training.

The challenge before the continent is enormous. Solving the energy crisis will require that the following be done:
- Shift from traditional to modern sources of energy and upgrade the unsustainable supply of biomass (mainly wood) energy to a sustainable provision of woodenergy
- Meet the demand for energy as a result of industrialization and population increase
- Develop/improve energy efficiency practices
- Harness untapped renewable energy potential
- Reduce dependency on fossil fuels
- Deemphasize investment in large hydro and increase investment in sustainable, decentralized renewable sources

Promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency in Africa will address the challenges highlighted above. Renewable energies are cleaner sources of energy, and therefore are sustainable form of energy. Renewable energies can continuously be harvested because they are inexhaustible in supply and have been considered by most developing countries as an essential component of extending access to affordable energy. Small-scale distributed renewable energy systems can help to alleviate energy poverty in many communities cut off from centralized grid electricity. In many countries, it will help to reduce the importation of oil bringing benefit to local and national economies.

Thought the cost associated with renewable energy technologies are not quite on the low side, they are less expensive than conventional fossil fuel. Another factor responsible for the relatively high cost in Africa is that most of the real costs of renewable energy systems are externalized. For this reason, governments in Africa should no longer delay the development of local manufacturing capacity of renewable energy technologies. This will not only serve domestic needs but have the potential to generate significant foreign exchange from exports. The transition to sustainable energy is possible, the sooner governments in Africa take the decisive steps, and the less damage will be done.