Posted on March 13, 2013 by Eileen Millett
We’ve all seen the head shaking over how energy conservation efforts in the United States are dwarfed by energy consumption increases in India and China. But, what about Africa?
The African continent, with close to 600 million people, 15% of the world’s population, now consumes about 3% of world energy production. However, Africa’s energy picture is changing rapidly due to growing investment, upgraded infrastructure, and success in tackling corruption. Africa always rich in natural resources, is expected to replace more basic energy sources with more efficient and environmentally friendly sources like oil and gas. However, huge areas in Africa — the Sudan, Uganda and even Kenya lack national electricity grid systems. But improving infrastructure and abundant energy resources hold promise for the future.
Most of Africa is not flicking a switch for lights, but instead is using matches to light a kerosene lamp or igniting a charcoal stove for heating or cooking. This will continue for the foreseeable future, which means more tree-cutting for fuel, more wood burning, and thus, more harmful air emissions. Using kerosene lanterns and charcoal stoves correlates directly with increased respiratory disease. Unfortunately, environmental health and safety will, in the short term, take a back seat to the need to rely on fossil fuels.
Renewables? Why shouldn’t a continent known for its hot sun be a natural for solar power? In Africa, questions about reliability and the lack of trained personnel are being taken seriously. So for the foreseeable future, the more likely result is that fossil fuels will increase, and renewables will take aback seat. The developing world views energy/environment trade-offs as part of the price for advancement, particularly in nations where energy resources and infrastructure is so underdeveloped. Opportunities are enormous, but so are the challenges and risks. Africa’s test will be how much financing, regulation and environmental mitigation is needed to propel the continent forward.