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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Africa: Renewable Energy - Africa's Next Future Nightmare
July 19, 2011

The deliberate refusal or downright failure of African governments to start generating power from renewable energy (RE) sources against the inevitable dry-up of fossil fuels' sources is drawing severe criticisms from informed sources. At least 600 million (m) of the continent's 770m population still rely on firewood and charcoal for cooking and heating water, among other domestic chores. The rest rely on fossil fuels like petroleum products and gas to supply power to industries, home equipment and appliances as well as to thermal generators for the national grid.

Thus, several questions are being posed about the lack of preparedness of African countries, especially Nigeria with its large 150m population and enormous energy demand, to generate power from RE sources when fossil fuel sources dry up. Renewable energy sources now hold a pride of place, be they solar, hydroelectric power, wind energy, geothermal and bio-mass, among others for the immediate and remote future. All these yield clean, inexhaustible power sources which do not pollute the environment.

For instance, as long as the sun shines, tropical countries can rely on photovoltaic (PV) cell panels to generate electricity. Small dams are increasingly generating hydro-power. Wind mills are rotating giant, ugly vanes on the landscape for power, while bio-gas digesters (at the moment, anaerobic only in Nigeria) are yielding ethanol for powering vehicles, among others.

The question is, how capable are African countries to exploit these sources as alternatives to the pollutant, non-renewable fossil fuels and firewood?

Professor Wolfgang Platz, a German RE expert at the World Council for Renewable Energy, Paris, France, last week reiterated the advice to African governments to take the early plunge into it now. First, because the consequences of climate change will hit African countries, like most developing countries, very hard. Moreover, all countries would turn to RE in their effort to cut down on the use of fossil fuels and firewood to reduce carbon emissions in order to protect the global climate. The demand of combatting climate change, consequently, would bring forest conservationists into direct conflict with communities' need for tree-felling for firewood.
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