Rolling Out Decentralised Renewable Energy Solutions

Demographic forces of youthful population growth and turbulent population displacements on the one hand, and a global economy to be weaned off its traditional reliance on fossil fuel power generation on the other, within the constraints of the COP21 agreements, are driving the problems of universal access to energy, water and food. This is against a slow economic terrain where low oil prices simultaneously sap incentive to switch to Renewable Energy (RE) and deprive oil-exporting countries of the revenue to invest in RE power generation. Citizens increasingly realise that they can no longer rely on governments to provide or create jobs, and that “self-help” is a precondition to improving livelihoods. Because of their greater vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters, developing countries often look helpless; but decentralised RE technologies (RETs) can literally empower them.

The African Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA) is an online platform for self-help. Created to accelerate the uptake of Renewable Energy in Africa, it was formed in Ethiopia in 2009, after a strategy conference convened by the World Future Council, the Alliance for Rural Electrification and the Heinrich Boëll Stiftung. It has now grown organically to more than 2,200 members from 101 countries.  Its membership by sector is 7% Policy, 60% Business, 18% Academia and 15% Civil Society. Its top 10 countries by number of members are Nigeria, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Germany, United States, Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia, India and France.  It is run by a 15-person Steering Committee representing Africa and the Rest of the World.

The information exchange which takes place on the AREA member intranet enables users to promote their ideas, events, services, products and tools, and to seek collaborators.  AREA’s activities and resources, such as its 2012 Bellagio Conference and library, have successfully harnessed international and intra-African expertise. As nations embark on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the prospects of multi-billion-dollar funding to fight global warming, we all need to ensure that the money is directed towards transformational change.  Announcements of signed Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for multi gigawatt projects and associated gifts, in Nigeria and Kenya, have raised the spectre of past predilections for large projects.  Stakeholders must ensure that governments are not inveigled into “gung ho” commitments.

South Africa’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) has shown the scale and speed with which RETs can be deployed on-grid and be, crucially, 100% financed by the country’s private sector, mainly from local resources while avoiding “white elephant” projects.

The challenge for Decentralised RETs now, is to demonstrate not only that they also can be rolled out speedily and at scale, but that they can deliver tangible community benefits, resilience, and socio-economic development; and for a fraction of the cost of grid-extension.

Anthony O Ighodaro

Anthony Ighodaro is Chair of the Steering Committee of the African Renewable Energy Alliance (AREA), and a director of the Alliance for Rural Electrification (ARE).  This article was first published in the ARE newsletter of 24 February 2016.

Visit African Renewable Energy Alliance – AREA at: http://area-network.ning.com/?xg_source=msg_mes_network

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