Cameroon aims to boost reliance on renewable energy

by Elias Ntungwe Ngalame | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 1 May 2015 06:30 GMT

A solar panel board is pictured at the Safaricom Base Transmission Station (BTS) in Kajiado, 100 km (62 miles) south of Nairobi, October 1, 2009. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

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But international cash is needed to make those plans a reality, officials warn

NKOLFOULOU, Cameroon, May 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cameroon will increasingly rely on renewable energy as it moves towards its goal of “economic emergence” by 2035, the government has announced.

Speaking at the Nkolfoulou landfill treatment centre, which is part of an upcoming project to generate electricity and cooking gas from municipal waste, officials said a new crop of renewable-energy startups could help provide the solution to Cameroon's energy shortages.

"Energy supply has been the main hurdle in Cameroon's path towards economic growth," said Basil Atangana Kouna, Minister of Water and Energy Resources. He said the country uses less than one percent of its renewable energy potential.

Hele Pierre, the Minister of Environment, Nature Protection and Sustainable Development, said Cameroon is ready to move seriously toward renewable energy – alongside plans to expand fossil fuel plants – but will need financial help to do so.

"The government needs to harness … solar, wind, biomass and small-hydro," he said. "But the government needs the support of its development partners to achieve this goal."

During their visit to Nkolfoulou landfill in April, Pierre extended an appeal to Michaëlle Jean, secretary general of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) – a group that represents French-speaking nations – asking her to encourage the IOF to support a Cameroon Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) project based on converting biogas into electricity.

Under the expiring Kyoto Protocol, which aims to cut climate-changing emissions, the CDM allows developing nations to sell carbon credits earned by carrying out emissions reduction projects.

The credits can then be bought or traded by richer nations to meet part of their own requirements to meet emissions reduction targets.


According to a recent report by the Africa Development Bank, despite Cameroon's abundance of energy resource resources – including oil, gas hydropower and solar – only 18 percent of people in the country had access to those energy sources in 2013, a rate experts said is low for Africa.

The report says currently 60 percent of the country’s installed electricity generating capacity of 1,400 MW is based on hydropower, "which fluctuates greatly during the dry season, forcing Cameroon to rely on expensive emergency thermal units,” or fossil fuel power.

To carry out its Energy Sector Development Plan—which aims for a 75 percent electrification rate by 2030—and reach its economic goals, Cameroon needs more and more reliable energy, experts say. The country also needs new energy grids to reach rural areas and other development infrastructure such as roads, they say.

"The key to the government’s 2035 economic growth plans lies in the provision of energy, especially to the over 70 percent of the population who live in rural areas," said Richard Balla, the director of renewable energy for Cameroon’s Ministry of Water and Energy.

However Cameroon’s renewable energy developers complain that the current state of the carbon market is putting off investors looking to gather credits from CDM projects.

"The price of carbon has dropped from 12 euros per metric ton (about FCFA 7,800) to less than 1 euro today," said Michel Ngapanoun, general manager of the Hygiene and Sanitation Company Cameroon (Hysacam), the company investing in the Nkolfoulou landfill project.

Ngapanoun hopes the IOF secretary general will highlight the issue of low carbon prices at the U.N. climate negotiations in Paris in December.

"An increase in the price of carbon would certainly encourage other companies in Cameroon to invest” in emissions reductions projects, he said.



Along with the Nkolfoulou landfill project, Cameroon has a range of other plans to help it achieve its renewable energy goals.

In January, the country got a cash boost from the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa (Sefa) to help launch a 72-megawatt solar power plant.

By providing financial support to medium- and small-scale clean energy and energy efficiency projects, Sefa helps offset preparation costs and enables these projects to become financially viable, experts say.

With Sefa's $777,000 grant and support from the African Development Bank, Cameroon is set to start building its first renewable energy independent power producer (IPP) – a facility not owned by the government that can generate electricity for sale to utilities or the general public.

"Its success will have significant effects on the country's power sector and the continent at large," predicted Alex Rugamba, director of energy, environment and climate change at the African Development Bank.

Meanwhile, South African company GSC Energy has entered into a 27-year partnership agreement with the Cameroon government to construct 10 solar parks.

At its peak, the $2.2 billion project will create up to 4,000 direct and indirect jobs and produce enough energy to power more than 50,000 homes, the government says.

Jean, the IOF secretary general, praised the Cameroon government's push to support renewable energy projects.

"There is need for this new push for energy diversification in Africa and I think Cameroon is quite on track," she said. "We need to work together to better promote best practices and preserve the environment." 

(Reporting by Elias Ntungwe Ngalame; editing by Laurie Goering)

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