Africa still has a long way to go in terms of universal electricity access.
To achieve this universal access to energy, the continent does not have to rely on dirty power to grow its economies across the multifaceted sectors.
As of 2010, 80 per cent of Africans relied on biomass energy especially in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) according to the World Bank. This population relied on wood, crop and animal residues to meeting their household needs- mainly cooking.
Nothing much has changed to improve this statistic with only a slight improvement to 65 per cent still relying on wood fuel for cooking by 2050.
Last year, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a report showing that urgent action is needed to address the consumption of biomass as a source of energy in Africa.
With pollution of the environment through degrading practices leading to increased greenhouse gases which has a domino effect on the economic sectors across the globe, Africa can adopt renewable energy generation as the direction to power the continent.
The study conducted by UNEP in collaboration with the African Union Commission (AUC) found that biomass (firewood and charcoal) production in Africa accounted for 90 per cent of round-wood production in 2016. 16 per cent of this was converted to charcoal.
“In a region where deforestation and land degradation is high and progress towards achieving universal access to energy is still slow, African governments need to pay special attention to the sustainable management of biomass as a source of energy,” said Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, UNEP’s Regional Director for Africa.
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The study suggests that for African countries to achieve global energy goals by 2030, governments have to address biomass energy use to minimise the negative effect it has on human health and the environment.
“While renewable energy is advancing rapidly thanks to effort and investment, urgent action is required to address wood fuel use in the region. This is critical to meeting global energy goals by 2030 and ensuring the health of humans and forests in Africa,” Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, the Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy African Union Commission.
According to the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (AUDA-NEPAD), the continent needs an estimated US$188 billion to build modern energy infrastructure and meet the continental demand for power, the main driver of economic emancipation.
As the continent is seeking alternative energy sources through solar, biofuels and other forms, there is a need for commitment to develop and modernise the infrastructure and enhance the transformation lives of more than 3 billion inhabitants.
In place, already, are several hydropower generation projects in most African states which seek to improve the access to electricity.
The AUDA-NEPAD notes that about 430 energy projects across Africa need to be upgraded or developed since the continent has the capacity to raise the resources needed for this development.
Due to the dependence on biomass for fuel, the World Bank launched the Biomass Energy Initiative for Africa (BEIA) in 2010.
In addition to eight other local initiatives, the BEIA was funded under the Africa Renewable Energy Access Program (AFREA).
The initiative focused on five creating enabling market conditions for high quality and high-performance modern cooking stoves, modernizing the charcoal industry, demonstrating the feasibility of social biofuels, increasing power capacity with bioelectricity and capacity building and strengthening leadership in biomass energy.
However, research conducted in Uganda last year found that there were barriers to adopting clean cooking mechanisms with improved cookstoves being perceived as a luxury.
The stoves were seemingly only affordable to high-income households in cities yet some of them cost than US$10.
What the World Bank realised in this study is that there were misconceptions about the shift from the traditional methods of consuming biomass to improved technologies.
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While these challenges are not unique to Uganda, they resonate in many other parts of the continent where a majority live on less than US$2 per day. Affording improved cooking technologies thus becomes a luxury.
Just like with the World Bank in 2010, UNEP proposes detailed technical and policy options at all levels.
African countries are to increase investment in innovation and research and development in biomass technologies, develop regional energy and cooking fuel policies and strategies that can be customized at national levels while institutionalizing sustainable forest management and increasing energy plantations and yield. There should also be improved woodstove efficiency and harmonise trade and regional charcoal strategies.
The decade late proposal by UNEP is nothing new and more needs to be done to ensure that Africa lunges forward in terms of clean energy generation and consumption.
Unless the governments proactively take the hard stance on clean energy investments, the cycle of inaction or lethargy in policy adoption will continue.
Source: The Exchange