In the rarified atmosphere of Aspen, Colorado, last week, I attended the 11th American Renewable Energy Day Summit. Over the years, the event has grown into a fascinating brainstorming and networking event bringing U.S. domestic and international figures in the renewable energy business together – financiers, technology entrepreneurs, government officials, activists, and scientists from across the energy challenges and opportunities.
We talked about international climate negotiations and renewable energy progress in China and India, but the strongest focus was on the challenges and great potential for U.S. innovation and how to bring climate change and energy policy back from partisanship.
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.
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.
In January, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim urged the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos to look closely at a young, promising form of finance for climate-smart development: green bonds. The green bond market had surpassed US$10 billion in new bonds during 2013. President Kim called for doubling that number by the UN Secretary-General's Climate Summit in September.
Just a few days ago—well ahead of the September summit—the market blew past the US$20 billion mark when the German development bank KfW issued a 1.5 billion Euro green bond to support its renewable energy program.
Walking past the Check-in counter in Casablanca’s Mohamed V International Airport, a digital sign claims X amount of solar energy used and X amount of energy savings occurred in powering a transit hub with the use of polycrystalline panel technology. As a tourist, this may come as a pleasant surprise if she has not yet had the opportunity to see other improvements, like Rabat’s tram system. As a citizen, this may be inspiring as the term “smart city” hints at better infrastructure and technology use. However, what qualifies a city as a “smart city” is more often a topic for discussion only among Maghreb countries and not implementation.
Back in March the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP) hosted an event here at the World Bank titled ‘Rethinking the Future of Energy’. One of our speakers was Duncan Clark, co-author of a recent book on energy and climate change. I came across Duncan while doing background research on the concept of supply-side constraints to fossil fuel extraction. It seems increasingly clear to me that demand-side climate change mitigation is always likely to be patchy in coverage (both within an economy, and between different countries), costly to implement due to the sheer number of point sources and transactions involved (and therefore regulations and policies required), and too psychologically distant from the real culprit: the fossil fuels we extract from the ground in ever-increasing quantities. Aside from a couple of vague references in the literature, Duncan is the first serious proponent for a supply-side approach to constraining carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that I’ve come across.
An abundance of natural resources is both an opportunity and a challenge for developing countries. A number of resource-rich, low-income countries receive amounts of foreign aid that are similar to or larger than their actual or potential revenues from natural resources. A new policy research working paper by Octave Keutiben and me develops a growth model to look at some ways in which the donors may help governments of such countries to use their resource revenues productively and minimize the magnitude of risks created by resource rents. The paper’s key conclusion is that making aid countercyclical helps to achieve higher economic growth, and so does conditioning disbursements on enhancement of public capital.