Mark Hankins, Mathias Gustavsson and Federico Hinrichs
October 02, 2012 | 9 Comments
Mobilising a critical mass of understanding needs to occur at all levels: in civil society, in the private sector, among financial institutions, as well as among the political class. Demand for renewables by civil society will be a main part of the pull that gets Ministers of Energy to take renewables more seriously. For this to occur, renewables need a well-targeted and properly articulated continent-wide publicity campaign which informs and educates the policymakers, financiers and general populace about the critical difference support for renewables can make in increasing access to modern energy while mitigating the effects of climate change. Current pessimistic views fuelled by misinformation can only be changed by focused public education.
Key elements of the message should include:
Get the Policy Environment Right
Governments must give renewables the same policy attention as fossil fuels, large hydro and coal. Africa needs to actively seek investment by creating attractive investment and business environments.
Suffice to say that there are ample international experiences that can be utilised in Africa to stimulate renewable sectors, and a number of pan-African successes as well. In general, policy environments must be built on twinned approaches:
Electricity and petroleum sectors in Africa have a notorious lack of transparency, leading many international supporters and investors to simply ignore governance when working with countries to develop strategies for renewable development (and worse yet, unscrupulous investors and governments take advantage of shady political environments.) Instead of turning a blind eye to real issues, donors and investors must tackle the central policy and governance problems as part of their assistance packages.
Once the general public understands the central role that renewables can play in a strong energy sector – and demands the requisite investment – government will provide it. While leaning heavily on public demand, investors, multilaterals and donors should help to create conducive policy environments by betting on winners. Countries that have the best policy and roll-out strategies should win the lion’s share of global financial and capacity building support. Other countries will follow, just as they did with telecom.
Developing the real potentials of renewable technologies – the operational conditions linked to infrastructure, financing and integration in power systems – requires skills and know-how. This is not limited to Sub-Saharan Africa. Experiences in places like Germany and California show that the development of renewable sectors requires continuous support for decades. Twenty years of strong support building the technical, social and economic capacity foundations will bring about changes.
In Africa, knowledge of renewables and their role in development of the energy system will have to trickle out to all sections in society. In the past, rural access-oriented approaches to renewables over-extended fragile sectors, leaving them unable to replicate small success. Because many programs built hydro mini-grids and solar markets in remote hard-to-reach locations, the private sector was unable to replicate these projects when donor or government funds ran out.
New renewable development programs must utilise the capacity of city-based companies and invite them to help tackle growing urban demand for power with decentralised renewable solutions. Capacity building programmes need to realise that all over the world, jobs follow the money, and in Africa urbanisation is an important engine of development. Successful urban companies who have helped build renewable power grids in urban areas will take solar and hydro solutions to rural areas.
Support must avoid being counterproductive. In the case of solar industries in Africa examples are found where support with good intentions has harmed an already existing market. Thus, there will be a need for types of capacity building that are multi-sectorial and practically oriented.
Paper-based support, nice-sounding political rhetoric, workshops and trade visits must increasingly be replaced with real nuts-and-bolts support to the groups that implement the projects. In short, the urgent capacity development work must be hands-on – it must take place as financed solutions are being put in place.
Mobilise the Private Sector
Of course, local, regional and international private sector interests must be the main players in execution of renewable energy programmes, and they play a key role in each of the preceding stages. There are a wide range of opportunities for the private sector that remain unexploited. Business can be developed for the sales and operation of urban solar water heaters, decentralised renewable energy mini-grids, locally produced biofuels or even for scaling up sustainable charcoal and biomass supplies. New types of ventures and innovative business models are much needed to create a competitive sustainable energy sector.
Indeed, investment in new types of renewables has the potential to open up new productive areas and expand investment frontiers in African economies and to change how cash flows and wealth is created within the country. New viable livelihoods will be created in the process.
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