Unlocking East Africa’s untapped renewable energies potential
Renewable energies have the potential to provide a sustainable, affordable and reliable solution to the growing energy needs in the East African Region. Participants at a Regional Workshop for East African Energy Stakeholders organized by the Heinrich Böll Stiftung on February 11th 2014 in Nairobi agreed that the energy crisis that faces the region and the African continent as a whole has to be addressed with urgency. In fact, as Ansgar Kiene, Director of the Africa Office of the World Future Council –co-convener of the Workshop – pointed out, reducing energy poverty has been increasingly acknowledged as the missing Millennium Development Goal.
But for all interested parties to truly find a solution they must sacrifice their individual visibility and work together for a common goal, cautioned Wanjira Maathai of the Green Belt Movement and Councilor at the World Future Council. In her opening speech, Ms Maathai noted that 96 per cent of people in Kenya have no access to grid electricity. There often is no alternative to wood for light and cooking which in turn kills 1.5 million people a year due to dangerous smoke.
The workshop brought together Parliamentarians from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, ministry representatives, private sector, Academia, Energy regulators, Civil society and Media. But this can only be a first step, explains Katrin Seidel, Director of the Heinrich Boell Foundation’s East and Horn of Africa Office, the conversation needs to reach a much larger group of people that includes energy consumers from individual household level to businesses. “Without the support of a majority of German citizens the energy transition would not be possible.” In her opening remarks, Ms Seidel referred to the switch of an industrial economy such as Germany from nuclear and fossil energy to renewables and energy efficiency. “Germans want clean energy and a lot of them even want to produce it themselves.” By 2013, more than half of investments in renewables had been made by small investors in Germany, while large corporations have invested relatively little so far.
The workshop doubled up as the East African launch event of the study “Powering Africa Through Feed-in Tariffs” whose findings were presented by Ansgar Kiene from the World Future Council. Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariffs or REFiTs have the potential “to transform energy systems and societies” noted Mr Kiene. Sixty five countries around the world have REFiTs policies that have stimulated the development of 64 percent of global wind installations and 87 percent of global photovoltaic capacity. “While the majority of these installations have occurred in industrialised countries, particularly Europe, the African continent has significant untapped renewable energy potential”. Since the launch of the study in South Africa in March 2013, Ghana has now passed a REFiT policy.
Members of Parliaments from Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya were keen to note that the region should embrace clean energy in order to protect the environment and improve citizen’s wellbeing. Hon. Bernadeta Mushashu, a Tanzanian MP and member of the Tanzania Parliamentarians Friends of the Environment (TAPAFE), stated that they were able to lobby the government to set aside funds in the ministry of energy towards the exploitation of renewable energy resources especially in rural areas.
Hon. Wilbur Ottichillo, a Kenyan MP and member of the Parliamentary Network on Renewable Energy and Climate Change (PANERECC) which addresses issues of climate change and energy use, stated that the East African Community has a mechanism to develop harmonized frameworks for renewable energy development in the region.
From the Climate Parliament, Wilson Matekenya, Regional Director Sub-Saharan Africa, suggested what MP’s could do to regionally engage on issues in renewable energy. James Corre, Climate Parliament UK Program Manager, suggested a four point plan for the region to enable a successful energy transition. This plan involves investing in a reliable transmission grid; phasing out fossil fuel subsidies; setting targets for renewable energy efficiency; and offering incentives to private sector renewable energy producers.
At the end of the workshop, one message was clear: This is the time for the East African region not only to formulate policies on renewable energies but integrate them in the region’s wider development strategies in order to leapfrog fossil fuel based economic development and set the course towards sustainable societies.