Africa’s Energy Efficiency Plans Need To Be Broader

Africa needs to look beyond energy efficient appliances and lighting for a long term and more sustainable plan.
Published: Thu 06 Aug 2015

Over 560 million people in sub-Saharan Africa still do not have access to a reliable and modern source of energy. In addition to this, the continent’s need for power will only increase. According to the International Energy Association, between now and 2014, Africa’s energy demand is expected to escalate by 85%. [Supporting Growth With Africa’s T&D Infrastructure.]

The governments of these African countries understand that in order to reduce poverty and harness their true economic and social potential, they must expand power generation and access. But, while new power generation and associated infrastructure are critical to bridging the gap between energy supply and demand, the role of energy efficiency as a low-cost energy resource forms an important part of reducing overall demand, decreasing the need for expensive peak capacity, and allowing electricity supply to be expanded to meet increasing demand in a timely, low-cost, and sustainable way.

Energy efficiency certainly has the potential to save the continent a fortune. According to the World Bank, addressing Africa’s power problems and implementing regional trade will require over US$41 billion per year. However, by reducing energy inefficiency, the continent could save over US$3.3 billion a year.

Africa sees value in energy efficiency

A good example of energy efficiency making a difference in overall demand is Ghana’s appliance labeling programme. Basically, the country labels appliances to indicate to consumers the energy consumption and efficiency of the product. These efforts, along with certain regulations that retailers and manufacturers have to abide by, have resulted in an estimated peak energy savings of over 120MW.

This programme has displaced the need for US$105 million in generation investment and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by over 110,000 tons annually, according to the World Future Council. This type of work will continue with support from the US Millennium Challenge Corporation which involves the development and enforcement of additional standards and labels to keep the most energy inefficient products off the country’s shelves, as well as improving the peak load management through efficient lighting.

In Ethiopia, new compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs are saving rural households money and energy. Through a World Bank project, the Government of Ethiopia distributed five million CFL bulbs. After only half of the bulbs had been distributed they had already saved 80MW of electricity. To build power plants that generate 80MW of electricity costs about US$100 million. So, for a US$4 million investment in new light bulbs the government saved US$100 million in energy costs. 

The Ethiopian government hasn’t stopped there. It has also designed an energy conservation campaign which involves for instance, the development of more energy efficient street lighting, and efficiency negotiations with large power users.

Efficiency beyond just lighting

So, while more efficient lighting and appliances offer a quick fix but are certainly paying off, other inefficiencies in the power system require a slightly longer term strategy. For instance, most of the ageing power stations run at less than half their initial efficiency levels and require major repair and upgrades.

In addition, distribution system losses, due to over-loaded transformers and low capacity cables, are all in need of replacement and will all add to a greater efficiency in the long run.

Renewable energy projects, especially the technologically proven solar and wind solutions, also need to be introduced to these countries beside the more conventional power generation plants.

So, while a short-term ‘quick fix’ is necessary in Africa, longer term plans also need to be kept in mind and developed alongside these ‘quick fixes’ in order to tackle energy poverty in a sustainable way.

However, this will only be made possible with government backing. Without the right subsidies, incentives and regulations in place, these improvements will not be possible.

Working towards sustainable economic growth

In the context of low access, a long-term energy efficiency plan should be prioritized in Africa’s energy agenda. By doing this, the continent can reduce consumption, conserve energy, and provide access to more people thereby working towards a more sustainable economic development.

Recognising that each country and its needs are unique, governments need to look at the wide range of solutions (both short-term and long-terms options) by learning from other countries both locally and abroad, and adapt these to local needs, thereby formulating a more holistic, long-term plan to meet energy efficiency goals.

The recent report by REN21 is certainly testament to the fact that sustainable growth is possible through the development of clean energy and energy efficiency. [ Sustainable Economic Growth Possible With Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency.]

Further reading

International Energy Agency-World Energy Outlook 2014 [pdf]

International Energy Agency-Africa Energy Outlook 2014 [pdf]

USAID-Examining energy efficiency issues in sub-Saharan Africa