Africans living "off-grid" may help solve continent's energy crisis - Annan panel

Thursday, 16 March 2017 16:00 GMT

In this 2011 file photo, a woman walks her child to school past high voltage electrical pylons on the outskirts of Kenya's capital Nairobi. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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At least 620 million Africans live without electricity - solar power and small off-grid energy solutions are key to curbing this number says Annan's panel

By J.D. Capelouto 

Rwanda and Ethiopia are among five countries leading the way in shifting to sustainable energy and solar power, and other nations should follow suit, said a panel led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In a continent where some 620 million people live without power, the five countries are trying to boost their power supplies by cutting taxes on solar programmes and introducing policies to attract companies that offer off-grid and mini-grid solutions.

Other African governments should also focus on developing energy-efficient solutions on a smaller scale, rather than spending too much time and money on massive national power grids, the Africa Progress Panel (APP) said.

Large grids — which develop power at a source and transmit it to communities through massive power lines — are necessary for getting energy to some, but governments should not rely solely on them, said Max Jarrett, the director-in-charge of the APP.

“It’s just not feasible” to reach all Africans this way, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Countries should also invest in off-grid and mini-grid solar solutions to bring power to more than 220 million Africans by 2040, the APP said.

Using an off-grid system, homes in villages have personal solar panels installed on their roofs. Mini-grid solutions use a larger solar panel system to power several homes at a time.

The APP likened solar power to mobile phones — technology that can spread across the continent and transform lives in just a few years.

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It takes more than just money to improve people's access to sustainable power, Jarrett said.

Countries must also map out in detail the needs and solutions, and then introduce policies that encourage private investment into the sector, the APP said.

One way to attract private businesses is to remove taxes and other barriers for off-grid solar technologies, the APP said.

Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda have already made strides in deploying solar energy, building an economic environment that boosts sustainable energy, and attracting businesses into the sector, the APP said.

The APP hopes other countries will “leapfrog” off these ideas to spread the solutions throughout the continent.

Jarrett described the issue of solar energy as a necessary “response to climate change”. While Africa did the least to contribute to global warming, he said, it is bearing the brunt of the effects.

“It behoves us to do a lot more, faster and quicker,” he said.

The APP's recommendations were published this week.

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