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Should Africa take the renewable energy path?

Modern energy services are essential for reducing poverty. Countries need energy to increase economic production, which improves livelihood options for women and men. Energy is also needed to increase agricultural productivity, provide clean water and improve human health, and energy enables girls and boys to go to school.

The briefing discusses how climate change is complicating the energy situation in many parts of Africa. For example, changing rainfall patterns have led to droughts, affecting hydropower generation in many countries. And climate change is likely to worsen desertification, reducing tree cover that is already threatened by deforestation in many places; communities that rely on traditional fuels such as charcoal and wood will face an increased burden as forests become scarcer. A further challenge is that fossil fuel energy is a major emitter of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Global efforts to reduce fossil fuel use reinforce the need for wider energy options in Africa.

The editor notes that one alternative is renewable energy. Renewable technologies give countries more freedom around their energy choices and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. But renewables in Africa do not always provide energy security. For instance:

  • renewable energy resources are abundant but unevenly distributed, causing supply issues for some communities
  • the underdeveloped nature of energy sectors, many of which are inherited from colonial times, and the slow pace of reform have inhibited the uptake and institutionalisation of renewables.
  • scale is a problem; many renewable energy options are pilot experiences, but renewables such as small mini-hydro and biogas digesters need to spread in ways that will reach energy-poor people.

Development priorities are closely associated with the uptake of renewables – especially when these are linked to productive end uses and the welfare and wellbeing of energy-poor communities. The articles in this Joto Afrika present how renewable energy can serve multiple functions and how energy-poor communities are benefitting – from biogas digesters in Uganda to solar power in Malawi. Other articles in this issue include:

  • the spread of biofuels in Zambia
  • hydropower in East Africa
  • making fuel briquettes to save trees
  • Africa’s National Adaptation Programmes of Action.