Letters

Energy, food, water headache for Africa

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About 640 million Africans lack access to electricity, according to African Development Bank. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • About 640 million Africans—half the population—lack access to electricity, according to African Development Bank (AfDB).
  • Rapid economic and population growth in Africa, particularly in the swelling cities, is expected to further exert pressure on the available natural resources.
  • Private investors are encouraged to conduct market research to tailor their products to the needs of society.

Africa, the most sun-rich continent, is capable of producing 40 percent of global solar power, yet it currently accounts for barely one percent.

This underdevelopment is mirrored across other renewable energy resources such as wind, hydropower and geothermal, all of which the continent is endowed with.

Yet about 640 million Africans—half the population—lack access to electricity, according to African Development Bank (AfDB). Still, those connected have a much lower consumption level compared to the rest of the continents.

Per capita consumption of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) is 180kWh, compared to 13,000kWh per capita in the US and 6,500kWh in Europe.

It is against this backdrop that energy sector practitioners from Africa recently marked the World Energy Day 2021 in Uganda. Kenya has hosted previous editions.

Energy poverty is just one part of the bigger challenge facing us. Most African countries grapple with food and water supply, all of which are vulnerable to climate change.

It is for this reason that the three-day conference explored the nexus between energy, food and water systems, in light of climate change. To a large extent, the above fields are all interconnected.

Rapid economic and population growth in Africa, particularly in the swelling cities, is expected to further exert pressure on the available natural resources.

How then can we sustainably achieve the universal provision of energy, food and water, and climate-proof them?

The Kampala conference explored ways of going about this in line with the theme: ‘Energy sustainability in Africa, unlocking food sustainability, climate change and water equation’.

For starters, it was agreed that all hands need to be on deck on this journey: private investors, governments, lenders, development finance institutions (DFIs) and consumers.

Whereas most African governments have committed to pursuing low carbon development pathways in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) through renewable energy investments, they cannot succeed alone. Increased participation of other players, especially the private sector, is urgently needed.

And this means governments are obliged to develop frameworks and policies supporting green investments. This was a key takeaway from the conference.

National grid

Relying on national grid extension alone would take decades if not centuries to reach everyone. And that’s why private investors have in recent years been deploying solar-powered mini-grids and standalone devices. They’re faster and less costly to install.

Private investors are encouraged to conduct market research to tailor their products to the needs of society.

This would not only make their business case marketable but also bankable, making lenders and DFIs ready to finance them. A good example is the rollout of pay-as-you-go solar equipment for lighting and powering electronic devices in off-grid homes and for irrigation.

Flexible payment

Having realised most rural homes in Africa lack the purchasing power to make full payment for the kits upfront, several investors came up with daily payments plan for solar use.

This flexible payment plan has delivered affordability. This innovation was a product of market research.

While solar lamps have ensured lights are on in many villages, solar irrigation pumps seek to enable smallholder farmers to seize control of their production patterns, without being at the mercy of weather conditions.

Lenders and DFIs, the conference heard, are equally expected to increase the share of green financial products within their lending portfolios to trigger a green revolution across the continent. Finally, consumers should vote with their feet in demanding sustainable goods and services.

Africa accounts for less than two percent of the global share of developed renewable energy capacity, with China alone accounting for 30 percent, according to International Renewable Energy Agency. This should make us all think long and hard.

Linet Njeri and Carolyne Gathuru are World Energy Day Secretariat officials