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Africa on the Rise

Benin has a large potential for hydroelectric energy.

At the semi-annual Climate Investment Funds governing body meeting, funding and operational support for nine low-income African countries to transform their renewable energy services was announced.  The countries gaining this support are Benin, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Zambia. This is a big step forward for the continent, as these 9 countries join the ranks of 16 others in piloting the CIF’s climate-smart investment scheme.

Five different agencies are helping implement the countries’ renewable energy strategies, with direct help from one of the agencies, the African Development Bank. The bank will be directly involved in the development of the countries’ investment plans.

Kenyan representative and co-chair of the CIF’s Scaling Up Renewable Energy in Low Income Countries Program (SREP) Erastus Wahome said the move is a sign of a changing Africa. "The additional donor support for energy transformation is a clear sign of confidence in the success we’ve already seen taking place in low-income countries in Africa and other regions, and a sign of developing countries' continuing enthusiasm to commit to CIF-style transformation,” he said.

Each country will receive $300,000 to begin work on making their SREP plan a reality.

40 countries expressed an interest in joining the program, but the nine were selected by an independent panel of experts based on a number of factors, including low energy access rates, the existence of an enabling energy policy, and capacity for further implementation.

Let’s take a look at these countries and see what makes their need for renewable energy so great and hopefully what makes their future look bright.

Benin

A small, underdeveloped country on the coast of West Africa, Benin is in a prime position for implementation of renewable energy infrastructure. This, of course, means it doesn’t have any currently. Benin depends largely on bio-mass based energy and imported petroleum from neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria. Benin also suffers from a lack of energy access.

There is a huge potential for hydroelectricity in Benin, though it’s essentially being ignored. Only one hydroelectric site is currently functioning.

While Benin lacks engineers and other talent to make renewable energy a reality, hopefully some of the development fund can be used to attract those willing to take on the task.

Ghana

Ghana already has somewhat of a renewable energy infrastructure in place, mostly focused in the hydroelectric sector. In recent years, hydroelectric has been complimented by fossil fuels in order to meet increasing demand in the country. Ghana’s electricity infrastructure is quickly becoming outdated and the government consistently falls short of meeting its targets in generation. The physical infrastructure is aging badly and is in need of updating, so hopefully some of the SREP funds could be used to ensure that supply is in line with demand.

Lesotho

Though it’s one of the smallest countries in Africa, Lesotho made headlines in 2011 with its implementation of one of the largest green energy projects in Africa. The landlocked South African country is unique for its mountains and higher altitudes, making wind energy prime for harnessing. With the Lesotho highlands power project, the government hoped to generate 6,000 MW of wind energy, as well as 4,000 MW of hydroelectric power. When the project was started, it was in the hope that brining renewable energy to the country would help solve some of the crises wracking the country, such as extreme poverty and low life expectancy. With the SREP funds, hopefully the country’s development can be taken to the next level.

Madagascar

The island of Madagascar utilizes mostly biomass such as firewood or charcoal for its energy sources, especially in rural areas. Only 20 percent of the population has access to any kind of electricity or form of modern energy. Madagascar is also mostly rural and one of the poorest countries in the world, making updating the energy infrastructure difficult because of high investment costs. With the implementation of the SREP funds, Madagascar’s energy future could begin to look up.

Malawi

Like the other countries receiving the SREP funds, Malawi uses mostly biomass for its primary energy source. Be it coal, firewood, or something else, this energy is dirty and dangerous especially when used for cooking. Toxic smoke is a huge problem in Malawi, and something the government has tried to combat in recent years. It’s still a difficult situation, though, has Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Hopefully, with implementation of more renewable energy sources, Malawi will be able to make cooking safe and provide more people with some form of modern power.

Rwanda

Until 2004, Rwanda relied almost entirely on hydro power, though the supply could certainly not keep up with the demand. In order to solve the energy shortage problem, the government turned to cheaper, dirtier energy. It’s unfortunate, too, since the country has a large potential for hydro and solar energy. There’s some momentum behind them, though the most remains behind Rwanda’s biogas industry. With the SREP funds, Rwanda can invest in bringing all forms of its fledgling renewable energies industry into the modern age.

Sierra Leone

There are several major renewable energy projects underway in Sierra Leone already, such as a large bio-energy program and a study into the country’s renewable future. However, as with the other countries receiving the SREP funds, Sierra Leone has a long way to go on the path to renewable energy. Many in Sierra Leone don’t have access to adequate medical care and hopefully investments using the new funds will lead to a better energy infrastructure, making medical care much easier.

Uganda

Uganda is one of the lowest consumers of energy in the world. Again, most of Uganda’s energy reliance is on biomass. However, Uganda generates 80 percent of its electricity through hydropower. Its potential is still definitely left unreached. The same can be said for Uganda’s solar industry. Solar has been around in Uganda since the late ‘80s, but it’s never really taken off. The government is looking to jump start these energy sectors, and hopefully with some assistance, can make that a reality.

Zambia

Zambia relies heavily on petroleum energy, which they wholly import. This isn’t sustainable, and the government knows that. There has been some investment in hydroelectric energy, solar, wind, and bio-energy, though they’re all in their early stages. There’s definitely momentum, but the industries just need an extra push. They’re looking to build power plants to generate electricity, and with the SREP funds, hopefully they’ll be able to go in a more renewable direction. 

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