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Friday, 15 June 2012 17:24

Africa: First African Renewable Energy Conference

By Ayuureyisiya Kapini Atafori

ACCRA, Ghana, June 15, 2012 (Public Agenda) - The first conference in Africa solely focused on off-grid renewable energy technologies will be held in Accra in October this year with a special look at applications in rural communities of developing countries. Off-grid technology is extremely important throughout Africa with many of the continent?s inhabitants without access to the grid.


Several global experts, technologists and organisations like the Director General of International Renewable Energy Agency's (IRENA) and several African Energy Ministers are expected to attend the conference.


The event, jointly organised by the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE), the Economic Community of West Africa States, Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency and IRENA, is an official contribution to the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.


The conference will be a crucial opportunity to learn about the current status of rural electrification in Africa and developing countries, discuss the main bottlenecks to a successful scale up of off-grid renewable energies, highlight successful instruments and policies from around the world, and share knowledge about innovative financing solutions, technologies and the latest research, says the Alliance for Rural Electrification.


Meanwhile, the African Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA) predicts that Africa will be the epicentre of the global energy industry as a result of massive investments in renewable energy technologies over the next 10 years. Participants at the annual indaba of the AREA based this positive assumption on the massive price decline of renewable energy technologies, recent political developments and the specific benefits of renewable energies for off-grid regions.


The conference, hosted by the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Centre and the World Future Council, gathered experts, politicians and investors from 17 countries.


Africa will be the powerhouse of the world, says Professor Salah Arafa of the American University in Cairo and member of the AREA Steering Committee. It will be the number one continent to do business and it will be leading in renewable energy projects.


Major success factors for the uptake of renewable energy in Africa are political stability and strong political will. Participants noted that once the market faced a level playing field for all types of energy, including fossil fuels, renewable energy will simply be the cheapest option. AREA, therefore, called on governments to redirect fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy infrastructure.


Furthermore, the development of the renewable energy market requires an enabling political and economic environment. This includes financial incentives such as tax reductions as well as supporting regulatory infrastructure. It was also stated that mechanisms such as micro-financing could have negative impacts when implemented as a stand alone solution.


Thus, Dipal Barua, Founder of the Bright Green Energy Foundation of Bangladesh and member of AREA, calls for comprehensive solutions. What we need for renewable energy is 'inclusive financing, which includes micro-financing, the supply of technology and capacity building measures, Barua said.


Director for Renewable Energy at Ghana's Ministry of Energy, Wisdom Ahiataku-Togobo, said: Renewable energy, especially solar and wind, has a leading role to play when it comes to energy access in rural areas.


An Associate of Rockefeller Foundation, Lillian Chege, made a presentation on Smart Power for environmentally-sound Economic Development (SPEED) at the conference. The project aims to foster electricity provision in rural areas based on a mini-grid with existing telecommunication infrastructure.


A pioneering role in renewable energy development in Africa has been taken by Cape Verde. The West African islands have set a goal of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2020. Abrao Andrade Lopez, Director General of the Ministry of Industry and Energy, announced that the country was currently running a study to explore how to achieve 100 per cent renewable energy.


In a related development, decreasing dependency on oil imports encouraged 39 of the small island developing states (SIDS) in Africa, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific to meet in Barbados to work out energy efficiency plans.


Islands like Tonga and Tokelau plan to become fully energy independent by 2013, and others are following suit. The small island developing states are writing the stories of their future, said Veerle Vandeweerd, Director of Environment and Energy at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


UNDP's Resident Representative in Barbados, Michelle Gyles-McDonnough, warned that rising oil prices could lead to economic and social instability in energy-importing SIDS. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, building local renewable energy sectors, investing in green jobs and strengthening social safety nets for people whose livelihoods depend on imported energy is critical for gaining energy independence and poverty eradication, she said.


Led by Cape Verde, Africa's island nations have already begun making headway in the arena of renewable energy. Seychelles is looking for more support via Abu Dhabi-based Masdar to develop its renewable energy particularly utilising its enormous wind energy potential. Mauritius is boosting its renewable energy across the board, including wind, solar, hydro-power, waste-to-energy and biofuels, hoping to increase its renewable energy production to about 40 per cent.


Other African islands that need, to increase their renewable energy practices include Sao Tome and Principe, Comoros and Madagascar. Yet with all the pressure to decrease fossil fuel exports, it is only a matter of time before the island-states catch up with their other island nation counterparts. (END)


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