TIME energy

Africa and Belgium Generate the Same Amount of Electricity – But That’s Changing

Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz region in Ethiopia, March 2014.
Laborers work at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia, March 2014. Tiksa Negeri—Reuters

Lack of power is holding Africa back

This article originally appeared on OilPrice.com

The statistics of the African Development Bank are terrifying: Africa’s total installed power generation capacity is 147 gigawatts. That’s about the same amount as Belgium’s total capacity, and the equivalent of what China installs every 12 to 24 months.

To turn this around by 2030 and ensure universal electricity access, the International Energy Agency assumes a $30 billion investment would be needed, at minimum.

It would be foolish to envision a future where Africa’s energy needs are to be met by expensive conventional fossil fuels. Sadly, few intercontinental efforts to boost installed renewable energy capacity seem to be gaining traction. However, a number of countries have come to this realization. Unfortunately, they are not necessarily Africa’s dominant power generators but represent those who have set achievable renewable energy plans in motion. In these countries, the sheer magnitude of investments being made shows how importantly African governments take the challenge of making the continent energy efficient and sustainable.

Certainly, some countries have advantages. Due to the presence of the Blue Nile – one of the two major tributaries of the Nile River — 96 percent of Ethiopia’s energy comes from hydropower, but authorities have not seen this as a reason to ignore the country’s potential from other renewable sources. Over the current decade, Ethiopia is seeking to increase its supply fivefold from 2,000 megawatts (MW) to 10,000MW through renewable energy. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam across the Nile, set to be the biggest dam in Africa when it launches in 2017, will provide the bulk of that with a capacity of 6,000MW. However, Addis-Ababa’s renewables plan is remarkably well rounded, and includes wind, solar and geothermal. This is no mere paper pledge either, as leading geothermal expert Reykjavik Geothermal is on the ground to build a 1,000MW power plant, the first stage of which will open in the Rift Valley in 2018.

Kenya is Africa’s second biggest renewable energy power producer, behind Ethiopia, and presents a similar model. Hydropower powers half of Kenya and it will likely remain the continent’s foremost geothermal producer until Ethiopia opens its Rift Valley plant. Kenya is also planning Africa’s largest wind farm — a 300MW project to be built by the Lake Turkana Wind Power Construction. Should the project come to fruition, it will be Kenya’s largest-ever foreign investment, no mean feat for one of Africa’s most investment-friendly economies. Kenya also struck out from the pack by understanding the role financial services must play in any steady renewable energy plan and launching Africa’s first carbon trading platform in 2011.

Algeria has chosen a different tack than its sub-Saharan colleagues. In setting its own renewables plan, Algeria is seeking to become an energy exporter off the back of its solar potential. In 2011, it announced plans to install 22GW by 2030 with the goal of keeping 12GW for internal consumption and exporting 10GW. Rather than focusing on one massive project like Ethiopia or Kenya are, Algeria envisioned this capacity being spread across a myriad of smaller plants. This would largely be done with Chinese involvement, including Yingli Solar, which won a bid in December 2013 for the first 400MW tranche of 1.2GW solar plant. With instability in the region rising, it remains to be seen whether Algeria’s medium-term plans come to fruition, but its energy export ambitions are a wonderful example of the continent’s potential.

These examples are positive, but not every African country has a major river or serious interest from foreign investors. Many of the continent’s smaller economies, even trusted democracies like Botswana, are dependent on importing most of their power. But this should not stop them from taking active steps to halt this dependence.

Botswana has imported 80 percent of its electricity on average in recent years, but this country of 2 million has a program devoted to electrifying rural areas through renewables, has implemented renewable energy feed-in tariffs to stimulate investment, and used funds from the World Bank to fully investigate its concentrated solar power potential.

Efforts like these will hopefully serve as a clarion call to other African nations to explore their options for developing renewable energy sources, and to foreign investors about opportunities in this sector. Africa’s smaller countries cannot wait indefinitely for outside help: their energy future is in their own hands.

 

TIME energy

Germans Happily Pay More for Renewable Energy. But Would Others?

Germany solar power
Germany has become a world leader in solar power Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Germany has embraced subsidies for renewable energy, but not every country is willing to bear the economic burden

This article originally appeared on OilPrice

While Germany is breaking world records for the amount of sustainable energy it uses every year, German energy customers are breaking European records for the amount they pay in monthly bills. Surprisingly, they don’t seem to mind.

In the first half of 2014, Germany drew 28 percent of its power generation from renewable energy sources. Wind and solar capacity were hugely boosted, now combining to generate 45 terawatt hours (TWh), or 17 percent of national demand, with another 11 percent coming from biomass and hydropower plants.

This proves that Germany’s controversial Energiewendepolicy is on target to meet highly ambitious goals by 2050 — as much as a 95 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, 60 percent of power generation from renewables, and a 50 percent increase in energy efficiency over 2010.

All well and good, but the economics of renewable energy don’t usually allow for such a smooth transition. As part of the Energiewende, the costs of associated subsidies have been passed on to German customers, who pay the highest power bills in Europe.

Fifty-two percent of the power bill for retail businesses in July 2014 is now made up of taxes and fees. The average bill for a household has reached 85 euros a month, 18 euros of which is the renewable energy levy. The reaction to such fees should have been furious.

It hasn’t been. A 2013 survey revealed that 84 percent of Germans would be happy to pay even more if the country could find a way to go 100 percent renewable.

So how can this model of high targets, high fees and high public support find traction in other countries? The answer is, with difficulty.

Germany’s national engagement toward renewable energy came after a period of prolonged public education, opening up to locally owned wind and solar infrastructure, and investment support. To be sure, other major countries are finding success in the renewable sphere, but not in quite the same way.

While renewable installations in the U.S. may account for 24 percent of the world’s total, they only accounted for 13 percent of the country’s power generation. This compares to Germany, which has more than 12 percent of global installed renewable capacity, but takes 28 percent of its power from it. Spain, China and Brazil trail behind, with 7.8 percent, 7.5 percent and 5 percent of global capacity respectively.

Brazil’s model has similarities to Germany’s, with the government carrying out public auctions for contracts and putting out favorable investment terms for foreign companies looking to set up renewable energy projects. Spain was doing well as wind became its largest source of power generation in April 2013, but economic woes have seen Madrid begin to double back on its commitments.

Political gridlock in Washington, D.C. means renewable energy in the U.S. has been boosted by state and private efforts. Arizona now has the biggest solar power plant in the world, while California has the largest geothermal plant in the country.

In Mexico, the country’s solar potential and the improving cost-effectiveness of PV technology has seen projects like the 30MW Aura Solar I crop up. But the national electricity regulator, CFE, has been slammed for taking up to six months to connect residential PV installations to the grid.

Perhaps the most ambitious plans come from China, which is busy working to transform its reputation from an energy pariah to a respected renewable leader. However, these are being mandated at a central level, with little to no attention being paid to the opinions of the Chinese public.

And there’s the rub. The German public is a willing participant in the government’s efforts, happy to face higher bills in exchange for a cleaner and more energy-efficient future, paying an average of 90 euros a month in 2013. It is true that Germans’ power bills are the highest in Europe, but the trade-off is known, increases are announced and negotiated months in advance, and surprises are few.

In the UK, which was proud of having among the lowest electricity rates in the EU, the government has been hard-pressed to explain to customers just why Scottish Power, Southern Electric, and British Gas have all raised prices, while the Labour Party has promised a 20-month price freeze if it wins 2015 elections.

The UK has left its coal and nuclear infrastructure to stagnate, reversed Blair-era commitments to renewable sources and opened vast swathes of the country to fracking exploration.

Ask them, and Germans might tell you that a pricey electricity bill might actually save everyone from a few headaches down the line.

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