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Powering up Africa’s Renewable Energy Revolution

Makhtar Diop's picture
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As African Presidents, Prime Ministers, and business leaders arrive in Washington to attend the first US-Africa Summit, one topic that will be paramount in their discussions with President Obama and his Cabinet is: how governments and families can access affordable electricity across the African continent.

Consider the facts: one in three Africans, that’s 600 million people, has no access to electricity. Neither do some 10 million small and medium-sized enterprises. Those homes and businesses fortunate enough to have power pay three times as much as those in the United States and Europe; furthermore, they routinely endure power outages that cost their countries from one to four percent in lost GDP every year.

Akosombo Dam in Ghana, June 18, 2006. (Photo by Jonathan Ernst)Despite the fact that Africa is blessed with some of the world’s largest hydropower and geothermal resources (10-15 GW of geothermal potential in the Rift Valley alone), bountiful solar and wind resources, as well as significant natural gas reserves, total power generation capacity in Africa is about 80,000 megawatts (MW) (including South Africa), roughly the same as that of Spain or South Korea.

As Africa enters its 20th consecutive year of economic expansion, with the World Bank forecasting that Africa’s GDP growth will remain steady at 4.7 percent in 2014, and strengthening to 5.1 percent in each of 2015 and 2016, the continent needs more electric power. Specifically, Africa needs to add 7,000 MW of generation capacity each year to meet the projected growth in demand, yet it has achieved only 1,000 MW of additional power generation annually.

Over the last week I visited Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two of Africa’s so-called ‘fountain states.’  The resources in these two countries – along with Guinea, Ethiopia, and Uganda – can generate enough hydroelectricity to satisfy the growing demand in Africa. I saw the range of applications for which this power is needed, and I saw clear solutions.

In Eastern Cameroon I visited the construction site for the Lom Pangar hydropower project. Once construction is complete and the reservoir is filled in the next couple of years, this new dam on the Sanaga River will improve the reliability of power supply and lower the cost for up to five million Cameroonians. The Lom Pangar project will also pave the way for developing the full 6,000 MW of hydropower potential of the Sanaga River by regulating the flow of the river.      
 
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, last week, I visited the Inga hydropower site on the mighty Congo River. DRC’s overall hydropower potential is estimated at 100,000 MW, the third largest in the world behind China and Russia, yet only 2.5% of this key resource has been developed. With 40,000 MW of generation potential, Inga is the world’s largest hydropower site. Its proper development can make Inga the African continent’s most cost-effective, renewable source of energy with an estimated generation cost of US$ 0.03 per kilowatt hour with little or no carbon footprint--a significant added virtue.

Shale Gas Revolution: Setback or Boost for Renewable Energy Future?

Emmanuel Py's picture

Is the shale gas revolution a brake on progress towards faster adoption of renewable energy? Many argue that it is, but there is also persuasive evidence that it could also  boost integration of renewable energy into power grids, by providing a complement to intermittent sources of electricity.

Ahead of World Water Day: Let’s Talk about … Energy?

William Rex's picture

For the last six years, a power plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico has bought water from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to use in its cooling towers (instead of using freshwater). This operation, Project Tenorio, a public-private partnership, continues today and has already resulted in the reduction of groundwater extraction of at least 48 million cubic meters (equivalent to 19,000 Olympic size pools) and increased aquifer sustainability.
 
This is a good example of the water and energy nexus in practice: the wastewater treatment plant covers almost all of its operating costs from this additional revenue stream and the power plant gets a more reliable water source that is also 33% cheaper than groundwater in that area.  

Treated wastewater has been used to reduce the water requirements of power plants in several other countries as well, as water supply becomes more variable or disappears. In the US, for example, around 50 power plants are using treated wastewater for cooling in order to adapt to water shortages. However, innovative integrated approaches like these are still more of an exception than the norm.

4 Ways Water Shortages Are Harming Energy Production

Diego Juan Rodriguez's picture

In countries around the world, meeting daily energy needs is dependent on water. Finding sufficient water resources to produce the required energy, however, and then appropriately allocating the limited supply, is becoming more difficult.

Powerless in Kanpur

Sheoli Pargal's picture
Katiyabaaz - master of illegal connections
Documentary on the power crisis in Kanpur, a North Indian city.

Kaatiyabaaz” is a compelling documentary film that highlights the power crisis in Kanpur, a city of three million people in north India. 

It has all the elements of a steamy Hindi movie: 45-degree Celsius heat, power outages that last 12-15 hours, and illegal connections that come up every night and disappear in the morning. The everyday characters are gripping too. There’s a Robin-Hood-like street electrician who “provides power” by hooking to transmission lines. An upright bureaucrat (a woman, imagine that!) trying to get people to pay their bills and prevent theft. A city full of tired, angry citizens fed up with poor service provided.  The film underlines how people will do whatever it takes to get some juice in their wires so that they can get lights, fans, water…the basic necessities of 20th century life.
 

Women at the Forefront of Climate Action

Rachel Kyte's picture
 
Mussarat Farida Begum Mussarat Farida Begum runs a small teahouse in Garjon Bunia Bazaar, a rural community in Bangladesh. As part of a program which has helped Bangladesh reach more than 2 million low-income rural households and shops with electricity, she bought a solar home system for $457, initially paying $57, and borrowing the rest. She repays the loan in weekly installments with money she earns by keeping her now-lighted chai shop open after dark. Her business is booming and her family lives much more comfortably with their increased income. They now have electricity at home and their children can study at night.

Women like Mussarat are at the forefront of our efforts to secure development by tackling climate change. On the one hand, they are disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of extreme events. But it is also women who can make a difference to change entrenched behaviors. It is their decisions as entrepreneurs, investors, consumers, farmers, and heads of households that can put our planet on a greener, more inclusive development trajectory.

In Case You Missed It: World Water Week 2013 Recap

Anna Delgado Martin's picture

After an intense and exciting week in Stockholm for World Water Week, it is time to look back at some conclusions of the conference and the way forward for next year. I was in Stockholm as a “Lead Rapporteur” and reported in the closing plenary session on “Cooperation to achieve equity by balancing competing demands”; other teams reported on “Managing waters across borders,” “Responding to Global Change,” and “Closing the science-policy-practice loop” (see closing plenary here).  This is my attempt to summarize over 100 sessions, you can find all the sessions in the WWW website.

Thirsty Energy: Making the Energy-Water Nexus Work For Us

Diego Juan Rodriguez's picture

Energy-Water NexusIn July, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released reports (see U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather and Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World) highlighting the energy sector’s vulnerability to future water constraints.  The reports’ findings paint a worrisome picture: currently, 60% of coal power plants in the U.S. are experiencing water stress; hydropower is threatened due to more frequent and severe droughts; and energy infrastructure is endangered by water variability due to climate change.

Water is critical for producing power, and vice versa. Almost all energy generation processes require significant amounts of water, and the treatment and transport of water requires energy, mainly in the form of electricity. Even though the interdependency between water and energy is gaining wider recognition worldwide, water and energy planning often remain distinct. The tradeoffs involved in balancing one need against the other in this “energy-water nexus,” as it is called, are often not clearly identified or taken into account, complicating possible solutions.


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