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Solar power is Africa’s lucrative answer to energy access

Solar power is Africa’s lucrative answer to energy access


Stine Horn, director of partnerships and development at NORCAP opened the webinar by explaining the importance of humanitarian work in light of a growing number of global crises, political upheaval, economic strain and climate change.

To answer these challenges, NORCAP works with its partners to develop projects and partnerships to alleviate the needs of vulnerable communities by deploying skilled experts to build capacity. NORCAP deploys over 1000 professionals across 80 countries to assist with crisis response, gender protection and ensuring peace and stabilisation, as well as implementing clean energy and climate services.

Lama Gharaibeh, Energy Advisor, NORCAP, Jordan, highlighted how important it is to really understand the needs of the community and tailor a solution around that. “Most women walk an average of 10 km a day for firewood collection, which presents security and protection risks”, said Gharaibeh.

Another example is how NORCAP is supporting the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in the Malakal refugee camp in South Sudan. The onsite biogas plant had stopped working due to technical and cultural challenges. Gharaibeh elaborated on how cultural differences can prevent the acceptance of certain solutions however, once that gap is bridged, clean energy can make a real change to the locals.

Another focus area for NORCAP is the empowerment of women and girls. In 2020 NORCAP launched the Female Accelerator programme to attract more female participation in the sector, enhancing capacity building and skills for women in energy services. The programme led to an increase in female participation from 14 % to 35 % this year alone.

Borja Gómez Rojo, Energy Programme Manager at NORCAP in Norway took webinar attendees through the report, which was co-produced with Boston Consulting Group.

Rojo explained that one important reason as to why NORCAP works in clean energy is that currently 600 million people lack access to electricity in Africa. Among these, there are 25 million displaced people who lack energy access. This has major implications for economy, health and safety.

The panel made it clear that this issue also needs to be addressed in the context of reducing emissions and protecting people from the effects of climate change in an equitable way. The lack of equal access to energy leads to poverty and ultimately migration.

The role of solar

Rebeca Solis del Campo, a NORCAP junior energy expert deployed with World Food Programme in Italy, discussed how the report explores the opportunities for growth in solar power as key to clean energy access. She mentioned three enablers that must be in place to ensure success:

  • More long-term investment in clean energy and pooling of funds
  • Combining expertise in the humanitarian, development and peace-building sector
  • Secure local buy-in by ensuring collaboration between local and internal authorities and stakeholders

There are four main solar deployment solutions taking the lead in providing energy access, according to the NORCAP report:

  • Greening humanitarian operations by replacing traditional diesel generation with solar mini-grids
  • Shared service extension entails building out mini-grids to power community services such as education, hospitals and community kitchens
  • Distributed energy access through solar home systems for displaced and community households
  • Mini-grid energy access allows powering larger appliances for displaced and community households

Challenges of transitioning to solar include:

  • Financing must become more suitable to solar investments
  • Off-taker risk is higher in humanitarian scenarios
  • Many countries in Africa have challenging political and regulatory landscapes.

Rojo emphasised the need for donors and investors to collaborate and develop a common language and goal in financing projects to ultimately unlock funding mechanisms. It is important to realise that solar deployment in the communities in Africa is a sizable investment opportunity.

A panel of experts provided key insights into the investment landscape and also highlighted the importance of clean energy access for all.

Hans Olav Ibrekk, policy director of the section for Energy, Climate and Food Security at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “We hope that humanitarian agencies are giving priority to clean energy, and especially as it now presents a strong business case. It is a $1.6 billion market”.

Ibrekk emphasised how appalling it is that about 800 million people across the world lack electricity access – most of whom are in Africa. One in four health clinics don’t have adequate electricity, and almost half the world’s population do not have access to clean cooking fuels, Ibrekk said, describing the situation as “a complete failure from all us”.

In Africa, only between $1 billion and $7 billion is invested in renewable energy each year, with half of that invested in South Africa. Ibrekk made it clear that it is time to not only focus on the private sector alone, but to get the public sector involved as well. “Tariffs, taxes and transfers must be right,” said Ibrekk: “if we get the public side right, the public sector will come in immediately”.

Suzanna Huber, a NORCAP Energy for Food Security Advisor deployed to WFP in Kenya painted a clear picture of the living conditions of many displaced communities. Huber explained that the lack of energy in the Eastern and Central African contexts is a question of survival. Especially the lack of clean cooking fuel is a strain on the communities, and conflict can arise due to competition for limited resources.

The situation can be compounded by conflict with the host country, which is often not interested in having refugees on their land. “Conflict with the government of the host country can really jeopardize the wellbeing of the displaced community. The humanitarian partners must consider energy as vital in the protection space”, said Emmanuel Michael Biririza, a NORCAP energy specialist deployed to UNHCR in Tanzania.

The panel explained the problem further. In order to ensure the cooperation of the host government, the humanitarian challenge must be coupled with the development challenge. Rather than addressing this solely as an emergency response, this is a long-term challenge and governments are seeing the opportunities presented by bridging the development divide.

One of the questions according to the NORCAP experts is: How do we integrate the aid and assistance being supplied into the displaced community, and use it to develop the host country as well? This is also where the private sector can seize opportunities brought on by working with government.

“The role of the private sector is less prominent in Africa than in the rest of the world. One of the main problems is securing the guarantees to get large investments into the country”, said Øydis Gadeholt, senior project developer at Scatec Solar,

However, all panellists agreed that 2020 has seen a lot of capital being invested into renewables. The technology is ready and in place. “The financing is there, the technology is there, it’s about working together and finding the right format,” concluded Gadeholt.

However, more effort is needed in terms of reducing investment risk with the off-taker, and humanitarian organisations need to assist the private sector with participation in projects. The panellists also explored the role of governments in scaling up these projects to ensure the Sustainable Development Goal number seven, namely ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, is fully met.

Source : esi-africa
Anand Gupta Editor - EQ Int'l Media Network