Developing Renewable Energy Sectors and Technologies in West Africa

By the time Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, which seeks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had already rolled out their regional road map and presented their national action agendas to attain it. The region seems to be on the fast track to getting out of the energy poverty trap.

Facing the facts

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is comprised of the 15 sovereign States of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo—united in their collective desire to achieve regional integration in all sectors of economic activity, as well as in social and cultural spheres. With an expanding population of over 334.6 million people, ECOWAS member States represent about one third of sub-Saharan Africa’s total population. The region encompasses a diverse set of demographic, socioeconomic, and social contexts and, just as the landscape, the culture, nature and climate are varied, so are the challenges to overcome the population’s lack of access to sustainable energy.

The ECOWAS region ranks among the lowest in terms of electricity access rates in the world, with only about 42 per cent of the total population, and 8 per cent of rural residents having access to electricity. The region is confronted with the realities of energy vulnerability, fuel price volatility and system unreliability. Energy poverty and its consequences for local economies and social development are projected to remain the predominant challenge for West Africa through to 2030. Electricity access varies widely, from Niger with an electrification rate of just 9 per cent (2011), to Cabo Verde which has achieved nearly universal access. However, national rates mask wide disparities between access in urban versus rural areas, which remain underserved by grid networks supplying major cities. The estimated share of rural populations with access to electricity can be as low as 1 per cent in countries such as Guinea or Sierra Leone.

Cooking accounts for a large share of regional energy use. On average, 85.7 per cent of the population currently uses solid fuels (predominantly wood and charcoal) for cooking, with national figures ranging from 98 per cent in Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone, to less than 30 per cent in Cabo Verde. The region’s reliance on traditional biomass and solid fuels has enormous negative effects on the environment and health, particularly for women and children.

West Africa’s economies already are and will inevitably be even more confronted with the effects of climate change in the coming decades. Hence the increasingly urgent need to both mitigate emissions and promote regionally appropriate adaptation measures, while striving to achieve sustainable development objectives. Given the region’s vulnerability to climate change, the urgent need for reliable and affordable energy poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Launching the United Nations Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative and declaring the decade 2014-2024 as the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All addresses three objectives: i) ensuring universal access to modern energy services; ii) doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and iii) doubling the share of renewable energy. ECOWAS is one of the strongest supporters of the SE4ALL initiative launched to guide the member States out of energy poverty, and is implementing a number of strong initiatives aimed at attaining the SE4ALL objectives.

Unlocking the potential for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

The ECOWAS region is blessed with great potential for renewable energy, which if harnessed, can play an important role in addressing the energy shortage. In the coming years, the rising energy demand due to population growth (around 2.5 per cent per year), rapid urbanization and economic development will call for urgent action to exploit the region’s tremendous renewable energy resources.

In contrast with fossil fuels, renewable energy resources are far more equitably distributed, providing opportunities for all ECOWAS member States to benefit from them. An estimated 23,000 MW of hydroelectric potential is concentrated in 5 of the 15 member States, of which only about 16 per cent has been exploited. According to preliminary estimates, small hydropower potential in the region amounts to around 6,000 MW. There is good potential for all forms of bioenergy. There are considerable wind, tidal, ocean, thermal and wave energy resources available in some ECOWAS countries. The region also has vast solar energy potential with very high radiation averages of 5 to 6 kWh/m2 throughout the year.

In 2012, the ECOWAS member States adopted the ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy (EREP), which aims to increase the share of renewable energy (including large hydro) in the overall electricity mix to 35 per cent by 2020 and 48 per cent by 2030. The share of new renewable energy such as wind, solar, small scale hydro and bioelectricity (excluding large hydro) will increase to around 10 per cent by 2020 and 19 per cent by 2030. These targets translate to an additional 2.425 MW of renewable electricity capacity by 2020 and 7.606 MW by 2030. By 2020, the whole ECOWAS population will have access to improved cooking facilities either through improved stoves or switching to other modern forms of fuel such as liquefied petroleum gas. The share of ethanol/biodiesel in transport fuels will increase to 5 per cent in 2020 and 15 per cent by 2030. By 2030, around 50 per cent of all health centres, as well as 25 per cent of all hotels and agrofood industry facilities with hot water requirements will be equipped with solar thermal systems.

There is also considerable potential for improving energy efficiency, including in buildings, industries, appliances, power generation and transmission. As published in 2014 ECOWAS Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Status Report, national energy intensity in the region in 2010 ranged from a low of 3 Mejajoules (MJ) per US dollar in Cabo Verde to a high of 71.1 MJ per US dollar in Liberia. Collectively, the 15 ECOWAS member States have an average energy intensity of 14.5 MJ per US dollar, well above the continental average of 11 MJ per US dollar.1

The ECOWAS Energy Efficiency Policy (EEEP) targets are:

- phase out inefficient incandescent bulbs by 2020;
- reduce losses in electricity distribution to under 10 per cent by 2020;
- achieve universal access to safe, clean, affordable, efficient and sustainable cooking for the entire population of ECOWAS by 2030;
- establish the ECOWAS Technical Committee for Energy Efficiency Standards and Labelling, and adopt initial region-wide standards and labels for major energy equipment;
- develop region-wide efficiency standards for buildings (e.g. building codes);
- create instruments for financing sustainable energy, including carbon finance, by the end of 2013, and in the longer term, establish a regional fund for the development and implementation of sustainable energy projects.

Energy efficiency improvements often present the most cost-effective solutions for overcoming the access challenge, offering a less expensive alternative to constructing new generation capacity.

Think globally act regionally: the establishment of the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency

ECOWAS has taken a pioneering role in the development of a regional sustainable energy framework in sub-Saharan Africa and much has been achieved to provide guidance and support to the member States for the adoption and creation of renewable energy and energy efficiency markets.

One concrete step has been the establishment of the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), the first regional centre with a specific focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies in sub-Saharan Africa. The Centre promotes and supports the development and scaling of renewable energy and energy efficiency markets in the ECOWAS region. ECREEE was established by ECOWAS with support from the Governments of Austria and Spain, and with technical support from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in 2010. The Centre is hosted by Cabo Verde, the country with the highest share of renewable energy production and the most ambitious target to achieve 100 per cent  renewable energy by 2020. ECREEE aims to create favourable framework conditions and an enabling environment for renewable energy and energy efficiency markets by supporting activities directed at mitigating existing barriers within the technological, financial, economic, business, legal, policy, institutional, knowledge and capacity-building framework.

Since its establishment ECREEE has embarked upon the development and implementation of key programmes. As a major milestone, the centre developed EREP and EEEP. Both documents were adopted by the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government in 2012. They outline clear targets and also provide a strong contribution from ECOWAS to the SE4ALL initiative. ECREEE has been mandated with the implementation of the policies and has been appointed by the ECOWAS authorities to act as the SE4ALL focal point in the region. Over the next few years, ECREEE will facilitate and monitor the implementation of the regional policies, at the national level, among all ECOWAS countries. ECREEE supported member States in developing a regional road map and National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs), National Energy Efficiency Action Plans (NEEAPs) as well as National SE4ALL Action Agendas—all with a view to attaining the regional policy objectives and Sustainable Development Goal 7, which includes the SE4ALL targets.

In order to help member States achieve these targets and increase access to sustainable energy, ECREEE is implementing a number of key programmes, ranging from the development of policies and regulations to facilitation of  project-preparatory activities, intended to move promising projects closer to bankability. Capacity-building is one of the key activities provided by ECREEE. It is targeted to a large variety of stakeholders in order to improve awareness, quality of installations, support mechanisms and policy processes. Flagship programmes implemented by ECREEE include the  Rural Electrification Programme, the ECOWAS Small-Scale Hydro Power Programme (SSHP), the ECOWAS Solar Thermal Energy Programme, the West African Clean Cooking Alliance (WACCA), EEEP and the ECOWAS Programme on Gender Mainstreaming in Energy Access (ECOW-GEN).

The support provided to the Centre by UNIDO has been important since its establishment and is still pertinent in acting as a catalyst for scaling up investments in clean energy solutions, strengthening policy frameworks to create an enabling environment, and securing funding for increased market penetration of renewable energy and energy efficient and low-carbon technologies that promote sustainable industrial growth. The success of the Centre has been spread around the world. With the support of the Government of Austria and other partners, UNIDO is currently working on the creation of similar regional centres in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community, the Caribbean, the Pacific and other regions. UNIDO provides key technical assistance for the establishment and operation of these regional centres (ECREEE is a case in point). The Global Network of Regional Sustainable Energy Centres Platform offers an umbrella for South-South activities between the centres.

The centres respond to the urgent need for increased regional cooperation, and complement and strengthen ongoing national activities in the areas of policy and capacity development, knowledge management and awareness-raising, as well as investment and business promotion. There is a common understanding that some “soft” barriers for renewable energy and energy efficiency can be addressed more effectively and at a lower cost through regional approaches and methodologies.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency for productive use

Provision of energy alone is not sufficient to lift people from poverty, and it is crucial to go beyond basic energy needs in order to empower the poor, particularly women, using modern energy in ways that benefit them and their communities. Providing sustainable energy for productive use means ensuring access to modern energy beyond basic services, in order to contribute to the creation of equitable employment and additional income, better access to education and health care, as well as to the improvement of living standards. Industrious use of energy for income-generating purposes can help to increase productivity and revenue, thereby ensuring the financial stability of both off-grid and on-grid sustainable energy systems. Ultimately, productive use of energy directly contributes to overall sustainable human development and poverty reduction. ECOWAS countries have implemented a number of programmes to focus on the productive sectors, especially supported by the Global Environment Facility.
In order to fast-track poverty eradication, the ECOWAS region also puts emphasis on growing its industries in an inclusive and sustainable manner. Green industry and green growth shows that sustainable energy powers human progress, from job generation to industrial competitiveness, from strengthening security to empowering women. There is great potential for the use of renewable energy in industrial applications, in particular in small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Unlocking the untapped potential for decentralized solutions

With only 8 per cent of the rural population of the ECOWAS region having access to electricity, it will be a great challenge to provide this service universally by 2030.  Grid extension is often seen as a preferred solution for electrification. However, because 75 per cent of the population without electricity live in rural and often remote areas, grid extension in the near future remains economically unrealistic.

This is particularly evident in the context of rapid population growth, and in many countries with thinly populated rural areas and low average income levels.  Strenuous efforts are being made to extend the grid to rural areas, even though it is more cost effective to use off-grid electrification in remote areas. “Off-grid” in this context means mini-grids for small and medium towns and villages, and stand-alone systems for the most remote areas.

The ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy has set a target of creating 60,000 mini-grids and 2.6 million stand-alone systems across the region by 2020, at a total cost of €13.6 billion to serve 71.4 million people. The ECOWAS Rural Electrification Programme, which is implemented by ECREEE, shall support the achievement of this target. Mini-grids will be powered mostly by solar photovoltaics, hydro, wind, biomass, biofuels and hybrid systems with diesel. Stand-alone systems include a combination of solar home systems and pico-solar. A clear focus is given to enabling productive uses of electricity as fundamental services in order to make electrification financially viable and economically beneficial to the rural population. Combined with an ambitious grid-extension programme, it is expected to put ECOWAS in line to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030.

Putting a gender-eye on the energy agenda

Women are not only important end users of energy, they are also disproportionately burdened with the sourcing of energy. There is a need to promote access to clean and affordable energy by directly addressing the differential energy needs and concerns of women and men, while advancing gender equality and sustainable development.

The challenge of gender inequality in the energy sector is strongly linked to the lack of gender consideration in the planning process. In order to overcome these barriers, ECREEE has launched ECOW-GEN. To ensure that women, as much as men, contribute to and benefit from clean energy development, ECOW-GEN implements activities directed at strengthening women economically by improving energy access for income-generating activities and, more importantly, empowering women as active actors in the sustainable energy sector. In June 2015, ECOWAS validated the first regional gender and energy policy in the world.

 

1. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), ECOWAS Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Status Report 2014 (Paris, Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, 2014), p. 145. Available from http://ren21.net/Portals/0/documents activities/Regional%20Reports/ECOWAS_EN.pdf  
 

For more information on the work of the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE) please visit www.ecreee.org