Off-grid renewable energy recommended for rural Africa

Solar panels being installed in Rema, Ethiopia. [Solar Energy Foundation]

A conference in Cape Town, South Africa, attended by ministers and government representatives of 28 countries, called for increased development of renewable energy, with rural needs being met with grid and off-grid solutions.

Clean off-grid and decentralised solutions are finally being recognised as a financially viable alternative for supplying electricity to isolated regions, according to the declaration of the South Africa International Renewable Energy Conference 2015 (SAIREC, 4-7 October).

The conference, which took place for the first time on the African continent, was also attended by business leaders and members of civil society. Its aim was to upscale and mainstream renewable energy, in order to achieve a global sustainable energy transition.

The conference participants noted that to make universal access a reality by 2030, 1.3 billion people, out of which 621 million in the Sub-Saharan region, should be provided access to electricity. The scale of the challenge requires that all approaches, including grid and off-grid solutions are taken into account and adopted based on national appropriateness and efficiency principles.

The declaration notes that due to the rapid cost reduction of solar and wind energy, renewable technologies in some markets have become the technology of choice. This enables sustainable energy access especially for the poor, also creating economic and job opportunities, simultaneously improving air quality, and moderating climate change.

To make the global transition to renewable energy happen rapidly, the conference considers it crucial to promote transparent and effective procurement processes, providing financing, technological and institutional capacity to African countries, as well as using innovative financial tools for building such installations.

The newly created Green Climate Fund should also provide a new finance stream for renewable energy development, the SAIREC declaration says. The Green Climate Fund was established with at COP16, in 2010, with the aim of making a significant and ambitious contribution to global efforts towards attaining the goals set by the international community to combat climate change.

The conference also calls on utilities to adapt to the new paradigm of decentralised energy generation, and to develop new business models.

Marcus Wiemann, the Executive Director of ARE, the Alliance for Rural Electrification, said that the federation’s growing membership has proven that with the use of the right technologies, implementing clean energy projects in developing countries is most effective.

“To enable the integration of productive use of energy solutions into business models, ARE will, together with its members, continue to share lessons learnt and best practices.”

ARE has recently published a paper highlighting the key importance of rural electrification for the socio-economic development on non-urban regions in developing and emerging countries. 

Electricity is a key resource for economic and social development. Basic services like education, sanitation and communication rely on it for lighting in schools, the refrigeration of food and power for modern technologies.

But the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) estimated in 2005 that 1.6 billion people still had no access to electricity.

Most of these people live in the least economically advanced countries. Over 75% of the populations of around 20 African countries have no access to electricity. This situation is shared in Myanmar, Afghanistan, North Korea, Papua New Guinea and Cambodia.

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