Cameroon trains new generation of clean energy entrepreneurs

Thursday, 25 June 2015 07:30 GMT

University of Yaounde 1 students learn to become solar energy engineers in Yaounde, Cameroon. TRF/Elias Ntungwe Ngalame

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Universities are training solar technicians and others to start new businesses that will provide power and jobs

YAOUNDE, June 25 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cameroon’s higher education institutions are training students to develop entrepreneurial businesses using solar power and other renewable energy technologies, aimed at tackling electricity shortages and creating jobs.

As climate stresses, including drought and floods, worsen entrenched poverty, the government is working with universities to find new ways of resolving those twin problems.

According to Maurice Aurelien Sosso, rector of the University of Yaounde 1, one popular programme offered by a number of universities is training for solar energy technicians.

The renewables sector in the West-Central African nation lacks human resources to plan, design, install, monitor and maintain energy systems – but demand is growing, Sosso noted.

“The constant rise in energy costs, the problem of persistent (power) blackouts and most importantly increasing awareness of climate change have pushed the business of renewable and alternative energy use in Cameroon to grow tremendously in the past few years,” he said.

The ministry of higher education introduced a training programme - dubbed “Solar Technicians Made in Cameroon” - in 2013, and several universities have since started running related courses.

“We think harnessing these specialised training opportunities is needed as a sustainable solution to the economic development deficit in the country, especially in the area of energy supply,” said Minister of Water and Energy Basile Atangana Kouna, while visiting a certified training programme at the University of Yaounde 1 in April.

Cameroon faces urgent problems of energy shortages, rural poverty and climate change, which require investment in people and infrastructure development, he added.

The training at higher education institutions, including the University of Buea, the Catholic University Institute of Buea and the University of Yaounde 1, will not only help the country meet its energy needs but could also lift the national development bar higher, the minister said.

“Cameroon’s engineers and entrepreneurs hitherto lacked the skills needed to develop clean energy projects like solar power and biogas production,” he noted. 

Before graduates could only get that kind of training at foreign universities – which few could afford. “Now this training opportunity is on their doorstep, they should…grab it,” he added.

JOBS FOR YOUTH

Environmental experts say the initiative will make Cameroon better able to combat the effects of global warming and poverty.

“The training will soon reach a magnitude that can significantly enhance Cameroon’s fight against climate change and promote job creation especially for the youths,” said Samuel Nguiffo, director of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) in Cameroon.

Clean energy initiatives are part of Cameroon’s efforts towards becoming an emerging economy by 2035.

More than 80 percent of the country’s electricity comes from hydropower, but the government is also exploiting other renewable sources, with solar energy gaining ground, said Nelson Asanji, a renewable energy engineer with the Ministry of Mines, Energy and Water Resources.

Rising oil prices and global energy consumption, together with concern for the environment, have sparked fresh interest in renewables in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, he noted.

In 2012, for example, the Cameroon government passed a law exempting solar equipment imports from value added tax.

“This decision has greatly improved investments in the sector, and there are over 25 major firms dealing in the distribution of renewable energy in Cameroon. The training of young…engineers will further help boost business,” Asanji said.

COUNCILS TO BENEFIT

At the University of Yaounde1, students are trained in the basics of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology so they can set up their own businesses after graduation, explained lecturer Irene Tiako.

Experts say skills in solar power production offer good opportunities for self employment. Solar energy can be used for refrigeration, air-conditioning, water heating, drying cocoa and coffee, irrigating crops, water pumping, and supplying electricity to homes, offices and hospitals, among other things.

Benedine Ako, a student engineer at the University of Yaounde 1, said he and his classmates planned to start up renewable tech companies, and would look for seed money to do so, as well as training others.

“All this will create jobs, and put us at the forefront of advancing trends in these new technologies,” he said.

Some of the students, sponsored by their local councils, said their new skills would enable them to build and manage solar energy projects in their communities.

“We think these … strategies will prepare our future civil servant leaders with professional values and knowhow to contribute to the sustainable development of their communities,” said Asong Zisuh, dean of the School of Engineering at the Catholic University Institute of Buea.

The training programme at the University of Yaounde 1 is sponsored by the Cameroon government assisted by France-based Bolloré Group. At the Cameroon Opportunities Industrialization Center in Buea, the solar training is backed by two German companies - AGI Technologies and Solar Energie Projekt.

Other university projects include the construction of wind turbines to produce electricity and a solar drier to conserve local farm products.

Students are also drawing up plans for energy-efficient housing and sustainable waste management by local councils, small-scale biogas production and the production of briquettes from bio-residues such as sawmill waste and palm shells.

(Reporting by Elias Ntungwe Ngalame; editing by Megan Rowling)

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