Right at this very moment 621 Million Africans – two-thirds of the continent's population – live without electricity. And the numbers are rising. In India, 28 States with 18,000 villages still under dark with no electricity, Out of 141 million hectares of net cultivated area in the country, only 46% is covered with irrigation.
Power shortages cut economic growth by 2-4 per cent annually. The toxic fumes released by burning firewood and dung kill 600,000 people a year – half of them children. Health clinics are unable to refrigerate life-saving vaccines and children are denied the light they need to study.
The latest Africa Progress Panel report, published this week, estimates that 138 million households living on less than $2.50 a day spend US$10bn annually on energy-related products, including charcoal, candles and kerosene. Measured on a per-unit cost basis, these poor households pay 60-80 times more for energy than people living in London or Manhattan. Off-grid wind and solar power could slash these costs, releasing resources for productive investment, health and education, driving down poverty and raising life expectancy.
Many case studies establish that while the availability of good renewable energy resources is a key determinant, the other important factors behind the success of programs include favorable policy and regulatory environment; good grid network in the potential areas; land availability; and specifically in case of retail technologies like solar water heating systems: users’ awareness; year-round demand; and established supply chains with reliable after sales service.
Towards this a sustained campaign may be mounted encompassing all media resources including print, radio, and television. Apart from specific recommendations, such campaigns must inform public about the places from where these devices and services can be procured. It is also important to focus on research and development to improve technology, reduce costs.
Supporting the development of large-scale renewable energy is not just the right thing to do for Africa. It is also the smart thing to do on climate change. One of the symptoms of Africa’s energy poverty is the destruction of forests to produce charcoal for rising urban populations: fewer trees means the loss of vital carbon sinks.
Small-scale solar energy can provide millions of people with a first step on the energy ladder. But it can’t in the medium term fill the energy void left by large-scale utilities. African governments must aim for an annual growth rate in power generation of 10 per cent a year for the next two decades – around 5 times current levels. Countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda have demonstrated this is possible. Both have simultaneously increased public investment while attracting large-scale foreign investment. Aid donors can help by providing bridging loans and helping to reduce risk.
Throughout history electricity has fueled the growth that has created jobs, cut poverty, and improved the quality of life. Now, almost 150 years after Edison developed the light bulb, it is time to spark an African energy revolution. We lack neither the finance nor the technologies to do so: all that’s needed is the vital connection of international cooperation and political will.
It has been estimated that to meet the stated goal of universal energy access, India will need to be able to ramp up its power production to at least 300 GW by 2017. Expansion of renewable energy resources could increase India’s energy security while reducing its dependence on imported fuels. Not only are renewable energy resources generally immune to fuel price escalations, they also accrue significant environmental benefits through near zero carbon emissions. A strong case for renewable energy lies in the following factors:
1. While the costs of fossil fuels are on the rise, the cost of harnessing solar and other renewable energy resources is consistently decreasing with technology advancement.
2. The dependence on local (renewable) energy sources and scalability of renewable energy technologies make them well-suited to meet the power needs of remote areas that lack grid and road infrastructures.
If India is able to fully harness its immense potential for solar and wind energy, it could emerge as a leader in the global green economy thus attracting greater investment into renewable energy. The prospects for renewable energy in India are very attractive given the large land mass that receives among the highest solar irradiation in the world. Its long coastline and high wind velocities provide ample opportunities for both land-based and offshore wind farms.
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