A just-published report by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) on the integration of variable renewable energy (VRE) into national grid systems shows once again that adding solar, wind and other forms of VRE does not represent the calamity for grid operators or the high costs that are frequently claimed, particularly in mainstream media. In fact, with proper planning, integrating relatively high levels of renewable energy generation into a large, interconnected grid is feasible at modest incremental cost.
This is important because with the cost of renewable energy continuing to fall, VRE is looking increasingly attractive. Just consider the recent results from South Africa’s renewable energy auctions.
Why then does the discourse around renewable energy continue to view it as a pesky annoyance at best, and a costly gamble at worst? Terms such as “intermittent” and “backup” are often used to pour cold water on the contribution that renewable energy might provide or to question the reliability of solar or wind generation. In addition to the damage they inflict on efforts to promote clean energy, they hint at a very conventional view of electricity systems that is rapidly becoming outdated.
Taking these two particular terms in turn, let us explore them in more detail.
On March 5, Liberian physicians discharged Beatrice Yardolo, an English teacher, from the hospital, hoping that she would be their last Ebola patient. Unfortunately, last Friday another person in Liberia tested positive for the disease that has killed more than 10,000 people in West Africa.
The bad news was a reminder that the world must remain vigilant and insist that we get to zero Ebola cases everywhere. We also must support Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in their efforts to build back better health care systems to prevent the next epidemic.
Beatrice survived Ebola, but she and the other survivors have paid dearly because of the outbreak. She lost three of her 10 children to Ebola, her home was encircled in quarantine, and she’s been unable to work. She and her country face a daunting road back to recovery and they remain at risk of Ebola as long as there is a single case in the region.
Various scholars have indulged tremendous resources to study poverty. Amartya Sen is among such scholars. He used the ideas of Adams Smith as his building blocks and looked at poverty as lacking the basics that one needs in order to co-exist in the society. The World Bank estimates that 4 out of 10 Kenyans live in poverty. Consequently, several approaches to reduce poverty have been tried and tested in Kenya. In most cases, these approaches have been a blend of various theories, which have been opined by various scholars. However, it is my belief that just like cancer – which requires a combination of chemotherapy and proper nutrition – poverty cannot be fought using a single approach.
Sustainable energy access is vital to the eradication of poverty. I believe that by providing access to affordable energy, it triggers the domino effect of bringing light, clean water, tools of communication and learning, improving health, and allowing for the establishment and growth of small businesses. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim stated when joining the Sustainable Energy for All initiative in 2012, “Ending poverty and ensuring sustainability are the defining challenges of our time. Energy is central to both of them.”
As a rapidly urbanizing capital, Accra, Ghana has been experiencing increased economic activity, coupled with rising migration. An increase in urban residents means an uptick in the demand for energy, both electricity and fuel.
The city has constrained human and financial resources to respond to this issue, as energy supply is struggling to keep up with ever-growing demand. Consequently, severe electricity shortages occur at the national level, resulting in frequent load shedding and energy price inflation, to the tune of 12 percent in the third quarter of 2014 alone.
Dumsor or load shedding has become part of the everyday life of local inhabitants; in fact, it is such a chronic issue that it has even made it into Wikipedia. Under the current timetable, residential customers have up to 24 hours of power outage for every 12 hours of power and are forced to use back-up power, kerosene lamps or be without power. At the same time, the Energy Commission of Ghana estimates that every year end-use electricity waste is around 30 percent of all of the electricity consumed, which in part, is due to the inefficiency of appliances and their overuse by the population. As is well known, inefficient use of energy contributes to higher levels of energy consumption than needed.
Although energy supply in the city is so often an issue, creative energies are bubbling in local information technology and innovation hubs, ready for a “spillover” into other sectors such as energy. Accra is home to a growing community of technologists and innovators, offering great and untapped potential for a new force to offer solutions, particularly, in the area of energy efficiency.
What is the main difference between high-income and developing countries?
Here is my take: People in the former have much more of pretty much everything. Almost everyone living in high-income countries has access to electricity; in poor (low-income) countries, 7 out of 10 people don’t. Most families in rich countries own a car, but only a few people living in the developing world do. On per capita basis, rich economies have 15 times more doctors than poor countries, consume 40 times more energy, have 50 times more ATMs, and so on.
Can Ethiopia and Mozambique learn a lesson from Brazil on harnessing forests sustainably for economic growth?
Thanks to a recent knowledge exchange program, yes!
As we can all imagine, Africa’s lush greenery and planted forests offer huge potential but the sector’s expansion faces major barriers like access to land, lack of access to affordable long-term finance and weak prioritization of the sector.
Take Ethiopia, for example. About 66.5 million cubic meters of the country (46% of total wood-fuel demand) is subject to non-sustainable extraction from natural forest, wood- and scrublands, resulting in deforestation and land degradation. In Mozambique, charcoal is still produced from native forests, leading to immense pressure on natural resources, and way beyond its regeneration capacity. Both countries want to know how the forest sector can contribute to their national development plans and help grow their economies and reduce rural poverty, while being environmentally sustainable.
This topic is of even more importance as we celebrate the International Day of Forests on March 21, and helps us raise awareness on the need to preserve forests and use this natural wealth in a responsible and sustainable manner.