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How Is Africa Speeding Up the Energy Timeline?

Aug 13 2017 Comments 0

Africa could provide a huge boost to the future of our environmental by adopting renewable sources of energy in place of coal, according the executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Fatih Birol.

While many developing countries around the globe (in particular, China and India) are catching up with the western world by strongly pursuing coal to meet the demands of their ballooning populations, nations in Africa could bypass the polluting technique altogether in favour of more environmentally-friendly methods of energy extraction.

A unique opportunity

In the developed world, an energy infrastructure has been firmly in place well before the realisation dawned of what global warming could entail, meaning that measures such as the EU's Medium Combustion Plant Directive have had to be introduced.

Elsewhere, superpowers in Asia have followed the western example of energy generation to power the homes and businesses of their rapidly increasing populations, which has propelled them to the forefront of the emissions list.

However, there are currently an estimated 700 million people in Africa who do not enjoy access to electricity. 40% of the African content have zero access, 5% are connected to a grid that never yields power and 9% more are connected but with only intermittent access. That means that more than half of the entire African population has very limited electricity.

Constructing new coal power plants is a dangerous venture, since they entail high costs, emit exorbitant amounts of contaminants and are vulnerable to becoming obsolete with the continual rise of renewables. Therefore, it makes sense to turn to a greener solution immediately.

Renewables and natural gas as a solution

With Africa a notoriously sunny continent, it’s thought that much of its energy needs can be met by the ever-more affordable power of photovoltaic cells. Solar power plants can be more easily set up to serve local communities and offer clean, unlimited sources of energy.

“When it comes to Africa, I think we will see something for the first time: Namely, Africa will bring electricity to people by mainly using renewable energy and natural gas,” Birol told Axios. Of course, therein lies the caveat; that renewables alone will not meet the entire continent’s needs, and that natural gas (primarily obtained via the controversial practice of fracking) will necessarily make up a significant portion of their energy generation.

However, a fresh approach to natural gas surveys could mean that the energy source is certainly less damaging to the environmental than coal, and phasing out this antiquated fuel should be paramount among the list of directives on the global agenda.

Not that there aren’t stumbling blocks on the horizons. The difficulties in getting neighbouring countries to cooperate in certain regions could prove to be very troublesome in setting up a continental power infrastructure, not to mention the existing infrastructure itself. The lines and poles which currently serve much of Africa’s grid are so dated and unreliable that they work less than half of the time.

Having said that, Africa’s unique situation, along with significant funding from overseas, mean that renewables could be given a sizable boost in their bid to overtake coal as a viable energy source of the future.

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