Abu Dhabi If Africa adopts renewable energy to meet the growing demand for energy capacity, it can generate several million jobs in the continent, according to the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena).
Africa faces a unique opportunity as nearly two-thirds of the additional capacity needed by 2030 has yet to be built. The continent can benefit from the recent global progress and cost reductions in renewable power generation technologies, and move directly to a renewable-based system, the agency said.
Asked about any estimate of job opportunities to be created by projects in Africa, a senior official of Irena told Gulf News: "It depends a lot on the strategies that are chosen. Bioenergy can be a major job engine," Dolf Gielen director, Irena Innovation and Technology Centre in Bonn, said by email.
"In comparison, Germany has around 300,000 jobs in the renewable energy sector. The investment needed in Africa would be several times as high. Therefore it is not unreasonable to assume several million jobs," he said.
Adnan Z. Ameen, director-general of Irena, recently said that smart government policies could accelerate the quest for more sustainable sources of energy in Africa and improve millions of lives across the continent.
"Innovative investment mechanisms and sharply falling manufacturing and installation costs of renewable energy technologies, including wind, advanced biomass and solar power are essential to further unlocking the continent's vast potential," he said in a closing address to the Africa roll-out of the UN International Year of Sustainable Energy for All (Iysea) in Nairobi.
Ameen, who serves as a member of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's high level group on Iysea also pointed out that many countries in Africa are already successfully testing the technologies and policies needed to bring energy to rural areas and growing cities.
According to a recent Irena working paper on Prospects for the African Power Sector, Africa is endowed with very large, high-quality renewable energy resources that can provide electricity for all at an affordable cost as renewable technology costs continue to decline.
About the innovative investment mechanisms to unlock the renewable energy potential in Africa, Gielen told Gulf News that Irena works with governments and financing institutions to find solutions to financing problems.
Often existing channels for investment are not used to their full extent because of lack of knowledge about such opportunities and also lack of capacity to develop project proposals, he said.
He said Irena helps to find such solutions. In many cases risk adds significantly to the cost of financing in Africa. Irena suggests ways to mitigate risk and helps evaluate risk properly. However, Gielen added that Irena, not being a bank or financial institution, does not provide loans or similar services.
About the required investment for Africa's renwable energy sector, Gielen said the amounts needed far outweigh the aid funds. He said the private sector must play a key role.
Both national and foreign investment programmes are needed. It is imperative to raise the local content of projects so energy investments result in new economic activity and revenues, he said.
About the cost of installing renewable energy projects in Africa, Gielen said, at the moment in sub-Saharan Africa it is generally more expensive.
He said high transport costs for equipment and materials add to the project's cost. To some extent this is balanced by a very good renewable energy resource.
"However we expect that as markets grow and local production of equipment grows, prices will come down," Gielen said.
Hydropower: Energy solution
Large hydropower is the least-cost renewable energy solution today, according to International Renewable Energy Agency.
This is followed by onshore wind, biomass and geothermal. Solar is still more expensive, but has a huge potential and costs are coming down rapidly, the agency said.
The rough costs of energy from renewable sources are:
- Large hydro project $0.05/ kWh (kilowatt hour)
- Onshore wind $0.07-0.10/kWh.
- Biomass varies widely but typically $0.05-0.12/kWh.
- Geothermal also variable but around $0.06-0.09/kWh for good quality resources.
- Solar PV (photovoltaic) $0.15-0.20/kWh (grid connected), perhaps 0.20-0.30/kWh with battery storage (off grid).
- Solar CSP (Concentrated Solar Power) $0.20-0.25/kWh. Note that numbers cannot be compared for ongrid and offgrid, and the quality of the resource varies widely from place to place and impacts the cost.