Promotion and implementation of renewable technology continent-wide is the key to address climate change and provide a robust platform for sustainable growth. The execution of renewable energy can be a panacea to the unreliability and instability of electricity.

By Joycee Awoojodu

The United Nations has deemed 2012 ‘The International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.’ Quite appropriate and timely considering that some 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity and 45 percent of them live in Africa. These are statistics recently spoken by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Director, Achim Steiner, in Kenya at the launch of the themed year.

The numbers alone highlight the energy predicament Africa faces as well as the vastness of the market as the result of the need to improve the state of affairs. Investors globally are tuning into the possibility of exploiting the situation. Opening up energy markets to private sector investment will lift millions out of poverty through income generation and more opportunity.

The Continent has abundant renewable resources yet many countries have not taken advantage of the potential it has to transform lives: by aiding people in generating income; powering health care services; extending educational opportunities; and simultaneously protecting the environment. While some countries have not caught on, others are pioneering the movement.

Uganda is one example where the government has created an enabling environment through the creation of a dedicated renewable energy policy and a significant percentage of their installed capacity coming from renewable sources. Kenya similarly has introduced a renewable energy feed-in-tariff, incentivizing investors to contribute to generation via renewable energy sources.

Besides the obvious environmental benefit that renewable energy presents, increased investment in renewable energy generation is expected to lead to considerable job creation. In the past ten years, global electricity demand has grown by 40% and experts have declared that the need for energy will continue to increase. By placing greater emphasis on sectors that have plenty of room for growth such as the energy industry, the colossal unemployment issue can also be curbed.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 2-5 percent of people are connected to the electricity grid. While that percentage may increase over time, there is dismal hope of electrifying a majority of these villages due to the significant costs associated with grid extension. Additionally, many of these communities are remote and sparsely populated. Implementing renewable energy stand-alone systems in areas such as solar, wind, and hydro will provide a more cost-effective alternative than expanding the national grid.

Governments across the continent must play their part by ensuring that renewable energy targets and policies are put in place. Private sector development is an essential piece of the puzzle but there is no chance investors will take the risk without proper incentives. “Reaching the goal of sustainable energy for all in Africa – will require action by all countries and all sectors to shape the policy and investment decisions needed for a brighter energy future,” said Kandeh Yumkella, Chair of UN Energy.

The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) is currently in the process of finalizing a Renewable Energy Feed-In-Tariff. The REFIT, which is set to roll out this year, will offer an attractive rate for all renewable energy generators incentivizing investors to consider renewable energy.

In addition to the REFIT, NERC is also developing a process to award tenders for rural electrification. Through a competitive bid, private investors will have the opportunity to supply communities with power through renewable energy sources.

Africa must echo the vision of United States President, Barack Obama, which he expressed during his recent State of the Union address. “This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy –- a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.” He further reiterated, “we need to embrace renewable sources of energy with even greater fervor as well as energy efficiency.” Hopefully as the world’s leader, his foresight will stimulate Government heads to take action. The fossil fuel that the world heavily relies on is physically unsustainable.

It is amiss for a continent so abundant in natural resources to lack enough electricity. Reports indicate that in order to meet the continent’s growing energy demands the power sector needs to install an estimated 7,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation capacity each year. Diversification is essential to fill the gap and much of this energy can come from the untapped renewable resources. According to the UN, the Sub-Saharan region has the world’s lowest electricity access rate at 24%, with the rate for rural access to electricity at 8%.

Promotion and implementation of renewable technology continent-wide is the key to address climate change and provide a robust platform for sustainable growth. The execution of renewable energy can be a panacea to the unreliability and instability of electricity. While industrialized countries are focusing on transitioning to low carbon-emission technologies, developing nations have the opportunity to harness the abundance of natural resources and leapfrog conventional energy options. The employment of clean alternative energy will contribute to electricity reform and enhance social and economic development.

If African governments make it a priority to ensure universal access to modern energy services by taking the necessary measures then 2012 just may be a successful International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

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