We are delighted to feature the second blog that Tonny Kukeera has written, providing an overview of the research that he is completing during the three month placement on sustainable energy at the National University of Lesotho. The placement is funded by the LCEDN in their support of the Africa-EU Renewable Energy Cooperation Programme (RECP) and the National University of Lesotho (NUL) in the organisation of the second Africa-EU Symposium on Renewable Energy Research and Innovation (RERIS 2018) from 23–26 January 2018 in Maseru, Lesotho. Tonny started the placement on 1st December 2017. The image shows solar training being completed at the National University of Lesotho.
The Role of Capacity Building in Energy Access
While the strive to achieve universal electricity access continues to make it to the top of almost every global agenda, relentless efforts are still needed to harness sustainable energy sources like renewables to solve the problem. This cannot happen where there are no resources, most importantly man power, equipped with relevant skills and knowledge to tackle the issue in areas experiencing lack of electricity. Oftentimes, electrification projects involving distributed generation systems in many African rural settings stall and/or fail due to maintenance issues which makes energy access programs even more expensive in the long run. It has emerged that in many places where access to electricity is a challenge, shortage of skilled local man power to engage in the electrification processes, has contributed to the difficulties faced in setting up mini grid projects due to extra costs needed to train locals to manage projects. This has fundamentally discouraged a number of investors to finance such projects yet the need continues to grow. The necessity for capacity building and training among the local communities still stands out as one of the most relevant measures on the road to universal electricity access. Through education and other training programs, developing nations and economies are afforded the opportunity to structure their energy planning capabilities while recognizing the fundamental principles of sustainable development i.e. economic, environmental and social aspects.
Capacity building does not only ensure electricity access but also guarantees affordable and reliable modern energy services, which are the main drivers for economic growth and human development consequently contributing to poverty reduction. Research has shown that most of the countries in Africa are endowed with a high potential of renewable energy resources ranging from hydro, solar, wind, biomass and geothermal. As a matter of fact, most of the countries in Sub Saharan Africa rely on these sources to meet 90 percent of their electricity needs. In a generation where the world is struggling to mitigate the effects of global warming by reducing the amount of emissions; utilizing renewables not only offers a safe passage to a “carbon free” atmosphere but also a world less threatened by climate change – whose effects for the past years parenthetically have mainly been faced by communities at the bottom of the pyramid. Like the era of telephone lines, Africa stands a chance to leap-frog the industrial revolution times by opting to use distributed generation systems instead of long electricity transmission and distribution lines that characterize most of the industrialized world. Moreover, fossil fuels were the main sources of energy and still dominate the energy mix in most of the developed countries.
It is true renewables still have short comings for example intermittency, storage and in some cases low efficiency. However, it is clear that all these can be overcome with more investments in research and development, availing platforms like conferences, workshops and symposiums where stakeholders from different fields of expertise share their experiences and knowledge, and as a result contribute to capacity building and research development. On paper, this looks like one of the easiest tasks to achieve but as we have seen from previous experiences, it is not. In fact, concerns over the weak link between energy research, formulation and implementation of energy policies in Africa still exist.
The big question still remains, how do we ensure electricity access to that third of the world population that has no access? I do not know the exact answer, neither does google, but what I know is it will require more than just a biblical good Samaritan setting up an energy project in a rural location for the masses to use. Without arming them with knowledge and skills required to manage and run these projects, success is far from being achieved. It will require constant monitoring and evaluation of existing and future projects to ensure more research and innovation in the energy sector. The development will involve the private sector, NGOs and public institutions to work together towards a common vision. And lastly, it will require scientists, entrepreneurs and policy makers to work together and in consultation and offer insights, solutions and approaches tailored to fit different scenarios and market needs. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we all look forward to witnessing at the upcoming Africa-EU Renewable Energy Research and Innovations Symposium.