Energy Indaba 2011: Small Scale Solutions offer Hope for Africa

Africa needs to look for home-grown solutions to the challenges of energy poverty, rather than relying on conventional models that respond to conditions in developed countries. So says Brian Statham, the Chairman of the South African National Energy Association (SANEA) and Chairman of the Energy Access Partnership (EAP).

Millions of Africans are trapped in a situation of energy poverty, with only about 5% of rural Africans having access to some form of commercial energy. But while large-scale energy infrastructure development is often regarded as the ideal model, connecting millions of rural and urban poor consumers to the main electricity grids that power Africa’s major cities and industries is unrealistic in the short to medium term.

The EAP was launched at this year’s Africa World Economic Forum, to define a successful model for addressing chronic energy poverty in developing countries. Together with SANEA, the partnership is piloting various power supply models in rural communities in South Africa and Lesotho.

The rural population especially is sparsely distributed with large distances between villages. This requires long transmission lines or pipelines with relatively small energy markets at the end of the line, which is generally not a viable investment.

“We need to look seriously at distributed generation to solve this problem,” says Statham. “Wind and solar power options, perhaps with some LPG or micro-hydro back-up, could provide elegant solutions for rural applications. Power for telecommunication and television will immediately help with distance education and commercial communication, as well as basic health services.”

Statham says the equipment for such a distributed generation scheme must be easy to install, operate and maintain, so that the local community is able to take ownership, taking into account the skills, spare parts and other goods and services available in remote areas.

He acknowledges that it will be a challenge to change mind-sets, so that communities accept small-scale solutions and so that manufacturers and finance institutions see the value in providing them. “Bigger has always been better in the field of energy provision, so this will involve a paradigm shift towards downsizing the technology and funding, instead of upscaling them.”

This presents engineers and financial institutions with a unique creative challenge – to find energy solutions that are appropriate to remote rural applications, requiring downscaled technology, restructured financing and public-private partnerships to provide for subsidisation of the infrastructure component, while the users pay for services, usage and maintenance.

“This has the potential to literally give millions of people the “power” to change their lives, and could ensure opportunities for social, economic and environmental sustainability on an unprecedented scale,” says Statham.

He says that the model could also help address the need for regional rather than national solutions to energy poverty, incorporating South Africa’s SADC neighbors.

We have had tremendous support from the relevant Governments, which are willing to create enabling policy and regulatory environments, and expect to roll out the project pipeline to several other countries in time,” he says.

ENDS

About the Energy Indaba: Energy Indaba 2011 will be held from the 1 to 3 March, at the Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa.  The conference continues to grow and has become the foremost forum for debating Africa’s energy solutions and focuses on: African power suppliers; alternative and renewable energies; oil and gas; the legal and regulatory framework, and investment opportunities in African energy projects. The exhibition has become a significant market-place for African and international stakeholders doing business in Africa’s energy sector.

CONTACTS:

Press Release prepared by:

Siyenza Management(Pty) Ltd

Lunice Johnston

lunice@siyenza.za.com

011 463 9184

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