Experts seek transformative energy power struggle in off-grid African communities

Experts at the WGSI Summit (PHOTO: Spencer Clerk)
Experts at the WGSI Summit (PHOTO: Spencer Clerk)

By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame in Toronto, Canada

Energy experts say emerging technology, social and business innovations are offering enormous possibilities for over 2 billion people in off grid communities especially in Africa to access energy resources that will radically transform their lives through improvements in education, business, agriculture health care and other spheres

The application of increasingly low-cost modular renewable energy technologies to Africa’s emerging markets also offers an opportunity to mitigate the effects of climate change and enable energy poor communities to become leaders in the global shift towards decarbonization, the energy experts pointed out at the end of a four-day WGSI (Waterloo Global Science Initiative) Open Access Energy Summit in Waterloo Toronto Canada, April 22-27, 2016.

“We are living in a moment of great technological, economic and social transformation that brings lots of opportunities. These opportunities can only be reached when we have access to energy.

African countries have thus a great opportunity to apply renewable energy technologies to fight poverty,” says Chris Anderson, President of Lumos Energy at the summit.

International, multigenerational team of researchers, practitioners, representatives of energy-poor communities from Canada and other countries including Africa, lawyers, government advisors and financial experts all congregated in Toronto to map out high-leverage solution pathways and actions that could bring universal electricity access.

The experts pointed out electricity access is a key ingredient for all types of economic activity, and a reliable supply can allow people to break free of the cycle of poverty and the effects of climate change. Additionally, a stable electricity supply is essential for achieving almost all of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including access to health care, education, and clean water.

Although sub-Saharan Africa still  has a long way  to go in securing energy access for its population, this also means that there are many opportunities to leapfrog the development of emerging nations by adopting newer, cleaner, and more efficient technologies, the experts say.

In Cameroon for example, industrial operators and families have in the past been paying heavy cost from unstable grid causing regular local power outages. Industrial operators have been experiencing unplanned downtime for their factories, resulting in losses from reduced production levels as a result of absence or unreliable energy.

A number of factory owners turned to diesel generators to produce on-site power with heavy cost and health risk incurred from carbon emission that causes pollution and global warming.

But the situation is now changing since the introduction of new technology and business innovation bringing alternative clean energy that is climate friendly.

“The introduction of multiple technology in renewable energy is making inroads in many communities in Cameroon, changing the livelihoods of many families and the way of doing business by economic operators,” says Billy Yarro of West Africa Energy Lead, Practical Action.

In Douala in Cameroon for example, SCTB has since installed a new permanent Jenbacher gas engine solution that now provides a reliable supply of electricity supply to the flour mills.

Flour from corn is a stable meal highly consumed in Cameroon.

Statistics from the government shows that Corn production  in 2014/15 was around 1.6 million tons. The amount of corn consumption has now incraesed in parallel with production, thanks to the new installations. Accordingly, Cameroon’s corn consumption was recorded as 1.7 million tons in the seasons of 2013/14 and 2014/15.

The J420 gas engine will enable SCTB to save on fuel while accessing reliable power for its operations,says  Oluwatoyin Abegunde, sub-Saharan region leader for GE’s Distributed Power business. “The project illustrates how GE’s technology is able to support Cameroon’s needs for a more sustainable supply of electricity.”

By increasing its gas-to-power efficiency rate and reducing diesel fuel consumption, the project will be able to reduce carbon emissions at its mills environment expert say

In Cameroons Far North for example, some six neighbouring villages, Mindif, Larie Katchel, Dir Irlagare, Mayo Behehel and Ouro are today reaping unexpected benefits from a solar powered water supply scheme, thanks to collaboration efforts between the government and the Center for Environment and Rural Transformation, CERUT, an NGOin Cameroon.

Before the project many herders lost nearly all their animals, their main source of income, as a result of the region’s erratic rainfall and drying ground water supplies.

The new water supply system uses a 2,500 cubic metre water tower, built into the hills 15 km from Mindif. Using power from solar panels, the water is pumped up from an underground reservoir and distributed through a network of pipes to Mindif and the other villages.

In the villages, more than 40 water storage containers collect the supplied water, which is delivered into household containers using a low-maintenance hand pump. Just one year after the project, clean drinking water is available to 80% of people in the villages.

In Zimbabwe a solar powered water supplied scheme is helping women farmers improve their livelihood and that of their families.

A local NGO, ProAfrica came to the rescue of rural farmers under a multi-partner initiative. Villagers contributed passion and labour while Pro-Africa provided training and technical advice. Rotary International, through a Bulawayo and US-based club helped secure $51 000 to enhance the capacity of the Matope Dam.

In the Irisvale resettlement area in the Umzingwane District, 70 km south east of Zimbabwe’s second city of Bulawayo, hunger and poverty have been an undefeated enemy each time there is a drought.

Water limitation regularly affected the rural community accessing markets for their produce but that is now changing because of the water supply scheme.

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