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Renewable Energy

African wind farms

by Joseph Miller

In brief

There is scope for improving clean energy production in Africa: Wind mills in Namibia

There is scope for improving clean energy production in Africa: Wind mills in Namibia

Growth depends on power supply – and green, decentralised solutions can serve local communities well.

Despite a lack of international funding, Keito has become the first private energy company in Senegal. The company produces solar kiosks that allow people to charge batteries for a small fee. Heide Schiller started the company and says she wants to promote the use of renewable energy in Africa. She is particularly interested in schools and hospitals. Her idea is not only to operate schools with clean energy, but also to educate the students in the technology.

Bruno Wenn, board member of DEG, the KfW branch that supports the private sector in developing countries, says that it is hard for German and European companies to invest in Africa, whereas they run fewer risks in big emerging-market nations like China, Brazil and Mexico. He thinks more needs to be done to foster a better Europe-African relationship.

Wenn and Stiller agree that, in prin­ciple, “the money is there”. Stiller says money and technology can be found anywhere in the world, but entrepreneurs need determination. Wenn points out that Africa could probably use more money than donor nations are willing to spend on official development assistance (ODA). On the other hand, he says, there is money „in African banks“ that can serve to fund sensible investments.

Wenn and Schiller met at a conference on green energy in Africa hosted by Evangelische Akademie Loccum, a protestant outfit, in June. The focus was on initiating projects to provide maximum benefits to African people. The downsides of conventional approaches that essentially rely on fossil fuels are that they are expensive and contribute to climate change.

According to Belynda Petrie from South Africa, the continent is facing many problems, including economic need, political turmoil, climate change, food shortages, inadequate healthcare and rapid urbanisation. Energy, she argues, is crucial for tackling most of these issues. She is in favour of independent, integrated wind farms and other small-scale energy producing facilities. They have to be economically viable, she stresses, since subsidies have failed in many countries. In her view, it is important to create programmes that solve local problems by promoting local ownership and self-reliance.

Core challenges, according to Petrie, include normal African political and institutional problems. She worries about pay-to-play corruption as well as about taxes on components that need to be imported. Unless governments back clean energy programmes, they are likely to fail.

Petrie sees a role for donor governments too. In her view, more capacity development is necessary because, too often, aid recipients lack the expertise they need to make the most of new facilities. Too many projects soon become worthless. Petrie also says that donors tend to misread markets, so they ship over something that they think is amazing, but Africans have no use for it. Such misunderstandings cause waste and frustration. (jm)