Here Is Why Government Should Prioritize Investing In Clean Energy

By Ireen Twongirwe

Since independence, African countries have spent decades and billions of dollars investing in fossil-fuel-based energy systems that have failed to provide modern energy access to over 600 million people, about half of the continent’s population.

It’s important to note that Africa still faces major challenges including low generation capacity and efficiency, high costs, unreliable energy supplies, and low access rates. More than 600 million people lack access to electricity while more than 80% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa lack access to clean cooking technologies and this has increased on climate change impacts.

We need to understand that there is an urgent need to transition from fossil fuels to protect and conserve our environment from climate change catastrophes.

 What is energy transition? A shift from fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal to cleaner, affordable, flexible and cheap energy (Renewable energy) like wind, solar and hydropower. More so, is energy in full development to fulfil our current desire to conserve the environment and deal with the non-renewable fuel crisis?

 Why transiting from Fossil fuels? The reason behind the push for an energy transition is the negative impacts fossil fuels have on the climate and environment. The transition towards renewable energies such as solar, wind and/or hydro, are important in order to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement and reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that affect the environment.

It is clear that Clean energy access in the country still remains low with grid and off-grid access standing at 19% and 38% respectively as of June 2020. The low clean energy access levels cannot support electric mobility, halt deforestation and reduce the socio-economic burdens faced by especially women and youth due to lack of access to clean energy.

Furthermore, clean energy production allows us to generate the energy we need without the greenhouse gas emissions and negative environmental effects that come with fossil fuels, in turn helping to reduce climate change.  Noteworthy, there are many benefits of clean energy, but the top two are environmental and financial. From an environmental standpoint, the process of producing clean energy emits fewer pollutants than the process of generating fossil fuel-based energy. Reducing these harmful emissions is a vital step in combating climate change. From a financial perspective, as the clean energy industry continues to grow, it can help create new job opportunities and stimulate the economy.

Last week, the floods were at the centre of Kampala city, and a lot of destruction (Loss and Damage) took place such as crops, infrastructures, houses, and cars among others. This is an indication that there is an urgency to transit from fossil fuels to clean energy to increase climate adaptation and mitigation. Since Uganda is among the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change,   they continue to invest less in clean energy.  

According to the 2023/2024 budget proposals that were approved by parliament in February, you find that a lot of emphasis is being placed on grid electrification. The generation and transmission votes account for over 90% of the allocations made under the sustainable energy programme.  Despite trillions of shillings being invested in grid electrification, women’s energy needs remain unmet. Women continue to suffer while looking for firewood and buying expensive charcoal and this has increased energy poverty in Uganda.

Why clean energy is important? Clean energy will limit greenhouse gas emissions. This improves air quality and reduces environmental harm. More so, clean energy will create new jobs hence reducing the level of unemployment. As production plants are built, it could bring an increase in jobs and benefit the economy. In addition, it reduces dependence on other types of energy sources. There is an abundance of clean energy resources such as wind and solar. Utilizing these may help reduce reliance on other types of fuel sources, such as coal. Lastly, clean energy will provide universal energy access which is necessary to end poverty, empower women and generate opportunities across Africa.

What needs to be done?  There is a need to increase budget allocations to the renewable energy vote under the sustainable energy programme. The budget allocations should go towards funding women’s access to off-grid solar energy and clean cooking solutions among others. More so, there is a need to provide funding to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development to ensure that the ministry undertakes stakeholder consultations including consultations with women to put in place Renewable Energy and Energy policies that meet the needs of women.

In addition, the government should support public awareness programmes on Renewable energy to rural poor communities. More so, the government should deliberately undertake gender and equity policies in solar energy access and stop any activities that are driving deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

Least but not least, there is a need to promote fair pricing for solar energy technology so that even people in rural communities can be able to purchase it since hydroelectricity is too expensive for them.

In a nutshell, as Ugandans, there is an urgent need for us to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce carbon gas emissions. We, therefore, call upon our Government leaders and financial institutions to invest in green economic alternatives that are sustainable and stop financing fossil fuels, especially Oil and gas that have led to violations of human and environmental rights hence causing climate catastrophes. 

Twongirwe Ireen is the Executive Director, of Women for Green Economy Movement Uganda. (WoGEM Uganda)


A Clean Future For Africa's Energy

Africa's rapid economic expansion creates a daunting energy challenge, combined with rising expectations of improved resilience and sustainability. Finding a sustainable way to meet growing energy needs is one of the core development challenges for the continent.

Africa is rich in renewable energy sources, including hydro, sun, wind and others, and the time is right for sound planning to ensure the right energy mix. Decisions made today will shape the continent's energy sector for decades.

Endowed with substantial renewable energy resources, Africa can adopt innovative, sustainable technologies and play a leading role in global action to shape a sustainable energy future.

Over the past two decades Africa has been experiencing rapid economic growth and improving social conditions. Supply unreliability is a concern holding back economic development, with most countries facing frequent blackouts and often relying on expensive and polluting solutions.

Clean, indigenous, and affordable renewable energy solutions offer the continent the chance to achieve its economic, social, environmental and climate objectives.

According to the 'Scaling Up Renewable Energy Deployment In Africa' report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Africa could meet nearly a quarter of its energy needs from indigenous and clean renewable energy by 2030.

Modern renewables amounting to 310 GW could provide half the continent's total electricity generation capacity. This corresponds to a sevenfold increase from the capacity currently available, which amounted to 42 GW.

A transformation of this scale in Africa's energy sector would require average annual investment of $70 billion US dollars to 2030, resulting in carbon-dioxide emissions reductions of up to 310 megatonnes per annum.

West Africa growth supported by World Bank

In West Africa the new Regional Electricity Access and Battery-Energy Storage Technologies (BEST) Project, supported with $465 million from the World Bank Group, will increase grid connections in fragile areas of the Sahel, build the capacity of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERERA), and strengthen the West Africa Power Pool's (WAPP) network operation with battery-energy storage technologies infrastructure.

This is a pioneering move that makes way for increased renewable energy generation, transmission, and investment across the region.

"West Africa is on the cusp of a regional power market that promises significant development benefits and potential for private sector participation," Charles Cormier, practice manager in the Energy Global Practice at the World Bank, says.

"Bringing electricity to more households and businesses, improving reliability, and harnessing the region's substantial renewable energy resources—day or night—will help accelerate West Africa's economic and social transformation."

Over the past decade, the World Bank has financed close to $2.3 billion of investments in infrastructure and reforms in support of WAPP, considered the key to achieving universal access to electricity by 2030 in the 15 ECOWAS countries. This new project builds on progress and will finance civil works to accelerate access in Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal.

In Mauritania, rural electrification will be expanded through grid densification of existing substations, which will enable the electrification of Boghe, Kaedi and Selibaby, and neighboring villages along the Southern border with Senegal.

Communities in Niger's River and Central East regions that live near Niger-Nigeria interconnector will also gain grid access, as will communities around substations in Senegal's Casamance area. Connection charges will be partially subsidised, which will help keep costs down for the estimated one million people expected to benefit.

In Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, and eventually Mali, the project will finance BEST equipment to improve the stability of the regional electricity network by increasing the energy reserve in these countries and facilitating integration of variable renewable energy.

Battery-energy storage technologies will enable WAPP operators to store renewable energy generated at non-peak hours and dispatch it during peak demand, instead of relying on more carbon-intensive generation technology when the demand is high, the sun is not shining, or the wind is not blowing.

It is expected that BEST will further spur private sector participation in the region by supporting the market for renewable energy, as the battery-energy storage capacity installed under this project will be able to accommodate the 793 MW of new solar power capacity that WAPP plans to develop in the three countries.

"These ambitious results will be achieved through a regional approach," Deborah Wetzel, World Bank director of regional integration for Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Northern Africa, adds.  "By working together, these countries can optimise investments and economies of scale, harmonise equipment and standards, and synchronise systems to deliver the transformative power of electricity to more people and usher in a new era of low-carbon energy trade."

Power to Ethiopia

Last year the World Bank approved a $500 million International Development Association (IDA) credit to support Ethiopia's goal of achieving universal electricity access by 2025.

Over the past decade, the Government of Ethiopia has made encouraging progress on its electrification program and expanded the grid network coverage to nearly 60 per cent of towns and villages.

Despite this progress, Ethiopia has the third largest energy access deficit in Sub-Saharan Africa with more than half the population still without access to reliable electricity, especially in deep-rural areas which are dependent on biomass and kerosene.

The electricity deficit in Ethiopia continues to exacerbate the poverty situation, preventing far too many people from fulfilling their basic socio-economic needs and limiting access to opportunity.

The Access to Distributed Electricity and Lighting in Ethiopia (ADELE) Project is an important component of Ethiopia's National Electrification Program (NEP), which aims to strategically change direction from infrastructure development to the delivery of adequate, reliable, and affordable electricity services.

"With a goal of providing electricity services for nearly 5 million people, 11,500 enterprises and 1,400 health and education facilities, the project represents the World Bank's continued support to the Government of Ethiopia's NEP and is aligned with our commitment to support Ethiopia's resilient recovery from the COVID 19 pandemic.

It is also an important step towards improving service delivery and addressing drivers of fragility and conflict" Ousmane Dione, World Bank country director for Ethiopia, explains.

An important feature of ADELE will be the deployment of innovative solutions such as decentralised renewable energy technologies, particularly solar photovoltaic (PV) mini-grids and individual solar system for both household and productive use, deployed through a combined approach of public and private delivery modalities that further enhance affordability and inclusion.

The project also has a strong focus on closing the gender gap in the energy sector and increasing the percentage of women participating in the mini-grid sector and off-grid technology value chain.

Supporting a renewable future for Africa

Renewables provide the chance for Africa to leapfrog to a sustainable, prosperous future. Increasing access to reliable, affordable, and clean energy resources is a key priority, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Around 600 million people in Africa still have no access to power, representing 48 per cent of the continent's population of nearly 1.2 billion. Accelerated deployment of renewables creates jobs and brings health benefits.

The renewable energy sector today employs 10.3 million people worldwide. With far-sighted industrial policies and targeted skills development, millions of new jobs can be created in Africa. Doubling the share of renewables by 2030 would create additional economic value by increasing global gross domestic product by up to 1.1 per cent.

This would signify a 3.7 per cent improvement in global welfare and jobs for over 24 million people in the renewable energy sector. This would enable further economic benefits such as improved healthcare services, especially in the most remote areas.


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