In ENVS 220, we have been spending the last few weeks working on our situated project proposals. For our project, my group is building off of an interesting discovery we made in on of our ArcGIS Capitalocene labs. We found that Burundi, a low income country located in sub-Saharan Africa, uses the highest amount of renewable energy as a percent of all energy consumption. The country who uses the second highest amount of renewable energy is Iceland, a high income country heralded as a global leader in sustainability. To add to this, Burundi had a population of 10.86 million people, while Iceland is home to only 338,349 people--that is a big difference in population. Because we have only had the opportunity to look into renewable energy use in Iceland and Burundi through our project, I feel that it is necessary for me to look into the energy challenges faced by other sub-Saharan African countries.
Less than one out of five Africans was connected to the power grid in 2012 (World Bank 2017). While there was a small increase of this number, from 32% to 35% between 2010 and 2012, the rate is still too slow to compete with Africa’s growing population (World Bank 2017). The results of limited access to reliable electricity include pollution, deprivation, environmental damage, and little opportunity to mature economically. Due to Africa’s vulnerability to climate change, traditional methods for increasing energy supply, such as burning fossil fuels, is not necessarily a viable option for Africa.
Paul Noumba Um stressed the importance of acting with urgency to speed up the implementation of stable RETs, “We are currently witnessing a paradigm shift and we must use new technologies to promote renewable energies, especially in rural areas,” he stated, emphasizing that this would also contribute to reducing poverty” (World Bank 2017). While there are many advantages to implementing RETs, these technologies face challenges that will require coordinated efforts to overcome: electricity from RET systems is more expensive than electricity purchased from the grid, which will be a challenge for poor households. It also limits the possibilities for investment by the private sector due to the small size of the market. Poor households stress the importance of access to electricity, however RETS would be used only for lighting and running electronic devices, not cooking or heating.
Overall, new research demonstrates that while technological developments in renewable energy create opportunities for improving the energy challenge in sub-Saharan Africa, significant institutional and policy challenges remain an obstacle. It is necessary that the focus on the opportunities for implementing renewable energy does not stand in the way of considering these challenges that are involved in developing a fair and equitable transition to renewable energy.
“Making Renewable Energy More Accessible in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Text/HTML. World Bank. Accessed December 5, 2018. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2017/02/13/making-renewable-energy-more-accessible-in-sub-saharan-africa.