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Renewable energy remains critical to light up Africa

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XINHUA
NEWS SERVICE
REPORTS FROM THE
AFRICAN CONTINENT

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Renewable
energy remains
critical to light up Africa

To
meet the growing energy demands, the power sector
in Africa needs to install an estimated 7,000
megawatts
(MW) of new generation capacity each year

SPECIAL
REPORT BY XINHUA CORRESPONDENTs
Christopher
Omar and Ben
Ochieng

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NAIROBI (Xinhua)
U.N. officials have called for
favorable policies to shift investments from
oil-powered energy generation to renewable energy
sources such as solar and wind in an effort to fill
the gap in accessing the key economic resource.

The U.N. officials also called for
the opening up energy markets to private sector
investment through the introduction of smart
government policies which they said will be the key
to unlocking Africa’s massive renewable energy
potential.

The UN Environment Program (UNEP),
which released a report in Nairobi on Tuesday on
renewable energy on the sidelines of the U.N.
Governing Council meeting, said a paradigm shift was
required to focus investments into renewable energy
from fossil fuels.

“There is green energy policy.

“A shift in thinking is
required at the heart of energy.

“The more fossil fuels the more
expensive. The more renewable energy, the
cheaper,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner
said during the release of the report.

By reforming the energy sector,
millions can be lifted out of poverty and the
sustainable development potential of Africa far sooner
realized, the report said.

The release of the report marked the
Africa launch of the U.N. 2012 International Year of
Sustainable Energy for All.

Norwegian Environment Minister Erik
Solheim, who attended the report launch, said
over-reliance on the supply of fossil fuels would
hurt the environment and consign more people to
poverty.

“Renewable energy can change
the way our rural areas are integrated into the
national economy,” Solheim told journalists.

The UNEP report is entitled
“Financing Renewable Energy in Developing
Countries: Drivers and Barriers for Private Finance in
sub-Saharan Africa”.

The report explains how obstacles to
increasing sustainable energy solutions in Africa—such
as the cost of electricity generation or difficult
grid access – can be tackled.

To meet the growing energy demands,
the power sector in Africa needs to install an
estimated 7,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation
capacity each year.

The report argues that much of this
can come from Africa’s wealth of untapped, domestic
renewable resources.

Cape Verde, Kenya, Madagascar, Sudan
and Chad have particularly significant potential,
says the study. Mauritania’s wind energy potential
is almost four times its annual energy need, while
Sudan’s is equivalent to 90 percent of its annual
energy needs.

“This offers both opportunities
to improve energy security and create regional
markets,” the U.N officials said. 

teiner said accelerating and
scaling-up sustainable energy for all will be key to
realizing a transition to a low carbon, resource
efficient Green Economy.

Speaking during the report launch, Dr
Adnan Amin, the director- general of the U.N.
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), said he
was pleased with the urgent shift towards renewable
energy in parts of Africa.

“Africa has the lowest rate of
electricity consumption,” Amin said. Some 1.3
billion people worldwide have no access to
electricity – and 45 percent of those live in
Africa.

However, Africa has abundant renewable
resources that, “with the right kind of public
policies in place, can unlock a new development future
and light up the lives and the livelihoods of millions
of people,” Steiner said.

The report was based on a survey of 38
institutions, mostly from the private sector, which
are all involved in energy infrastructure finance in
poor countries.

U.N. experts said African countries
needed to tackle the issues of currency exchange rate,
which affect the pricing of energy products,
especially oil products.

In Kenya, a government feed-in
tariff introduced in 2008 to expand renewable energy
power generation in the country, will incentivize an
estimated additional energy generation capacity of
1,300 Megawatts (MW) — more than double Kenya’s
present capacity.

The increased investment in
renewables is also expected to trigger significant
job creation through construction of power plants,
grid connection and maintenance.

Solheim said to address the
shortfalls, most African countries needed to privatize
state-run energy companies and allow private firms
into the energy field.

In Africa, only 2-5 percent of the
people are connected to the electricity grid, using
renewable energy in the form of mini-wind,
bio-energy or solar household systems.

Meanwhile, UNEP has praised Uganda’s
renewable energy policy expansion and the development
of a system for management of the Clean Development
Mechanism (CDM), which has successfully led to a surge
in renewable energy activity.

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