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[COPENHAGEN] Africa needs new sources of clean energy, including a mix of wind and solar energy technologies, and should introduce 'climate innovation centres' to speed their uptake, energy experts have said.

Oliver Knight, energy advisor at the UK Department for International Development, said that the severe water shortages predicted for Africa as a result of climate change mean that the continent cannot rely on hydropower as its only clean energy source.

"Africa needs to diversify from hydroelectric power, which becomes less reliable with less rainfall," Knight said after addressing a session on low carbon energy sources at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen (7–18 December).

Different mixes of technologies would be appropriate for different countries, he said. For example, a mix of wind, solar and geothermal energies could work in Kenya, whereas hydropower, bio-energy and geothermal would be more relevant for Rwanda, which has less wind and solar radiation.

But the continent does not need to launch a massive research and development programme in its quest for clean technologies, said Knight. Rather, it should use existing technologies and adapt them to local conditions and needs.

"This is not strictly an issue of research and development as the technology already exists elsewhere," he said.

Knight suggested that Africa could achieve this through climate innovation centres — local hubs that help countries to adopt technologies developed elsewhere and adapt them to local needs.

The concept of climate innovation centres is gaining ground, especially in India.

Ambuj Sagar, professor of policy at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi and one of the chief architects of the concept, told SciDev.Net that technologies transferred to developing countries often need to be modified to suit local conditions (see 'Innovation cooperation' to meet climate challenges).

Sagar said that local capacity to operate and maintain the technologies must be developed in parallel with technology transfer.

India's proposed climate innovation centres form part of discussions on technology transfer at the Copenhagen meeting and are included in the draft text of the relevant working group.

For the concept to work in Africa, countries will need finances, project developers and implementers, and policies that encourage private-sector investment, said Knight.

Steve Thorne, director of SouthSouthNorth, a South Africa-based network of organisations working on climate change and social development, said the key issue in Africa was access to modern energy services to enhance livelihoods.

Africa needs clear policies to increase the use of renewables in national energy plans, he told SciDev.Net, and current tariffs make renewable costly compared with coal-based power plants.