Africa ‘needs better policies on renewable energy’

Africa should tap into its renewable energy potential, experts have said Copyright: Flickr/PRI's The World

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[NAIROBI] Inadequate policies and regulations, rather than a lack of funding, is the main reason for Africa’s failure to exploit its huge renewable energy potential, according to Adnan Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

His comments came at the launch of a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report in Kenya, at the 12th special session of the governing council this week (20–22 February). The event also marked the African launch of the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

The report, ‘Financing Renewable Energy in Developing Countries: Drivers and Barriers for Private Finance in Sub-Saharan Africa’, discusses how to tackle the obstacles preventing Africa from scaling up its renewable energy production.

Opening up Africa’s energy markets to private sector investment is key to tapping into the continent’s potential, says the report.

Just two to five per cent of rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa have access to grid electricity, a situation that had stifled development.  

The report warns that half of Africa’s population will still be without electricity by 2030 if urgent action is not taken to change the continent’s reliance on expensive traditional energy sources.

Amin said Africa has enough funds in its energy markets to unlock its huge clean energy potential, if only the right policies and regulations are adopted.

He said that political commitment would see Africa transform its most remote villages, spurring huge economic growth and inspiring radical technological innovations in fields such as agriculture and food security.

"Africa must rise up to the occasion and seize opportunities at her doorstep by seeking money in her own financial markets and venturing into private-public partnerships, to fully make use of her untapped green energy potential," Amin said.

Continued reliance on fossil fuels, mostly imported from outside the continent, is accelerating poverty and eroding gains made in exports in countries such as Kenya and Senegal, which are spending up to 50 per cent of their oil export earnings to meet their oil import bill, he said.

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, said: "We have seen revolutionary technologies such as mobile phone money transfer coming of Africa; we believe that, if the energy potential on the continent is fully exploited, more revolutionary innovations will come out of the continent".

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union commissioner for climate action, said that countries must strive to make sustainable energy a reality at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in June.

"Sustainable energy must be made one of the deliverable realities in the Rio+20 negotiations, or we will risk making this whole 20-year process from Rio, Durban and Nairobi a mere talking shop," she said.