Sustainable Energy Development in West Africa: Tracking Progress
July 6, 2018 - The energy system of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is facing the interrelated challenges of energy access, energy security and climate change mitigation and adaptation simultaneously. The region, with over 300 million inhabitants equivalent to roughly one third of Africa’s total population, has one of the lowest modern energy consumption rates in the world. Household access to electricity across the region is about 20% but wide gaps exist between the access rates in urban areas that average at 40% and in rural areas at 6% to 8%. Also, the region’s electricity systems continues to face tremendous challenges due to the growing gap between predicted demand, existing supply capacities and limited capital investments. Climate change also presents an added challenge. Though West Africa is only responsible for a fraction of global energy related GHG emissions, it will however be highly impacted by mitigation and adaptation costs of climate change in the coming decades.
Given the correlation between energy poverty, poverty eradication and the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), West Africa is striving to address the current unsustainable patterns of energy production and consumption. Efforts are underway to increase energy access while also addressing the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. The transition from fossil fuel based energy sources to cleaner and renewable sources is therefore imperative.
Over the past decade, global use of renewable energy sources for generation of electricity has grown significantly, largely driven by increased awareness of the effects of climate change and policy and incentive schemes aimed at enhancing the deployment of green energy. The ECOWAS region possesses significant renewable energy resources that offers a clean alternative to traditional sources of energy, laying the ground work for a low-carbon development path. This will require the regional sustainable energy market to overcome the various technical, financial, economic, legal, institutional, policy and capacity related barriers.
The Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) has taken a pioneering role in the promotion of sustainable energy services through a regional approach - resulting in the creation of the ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE). ECREEE was established with support of the Governments of Cabo Verde, Austria, Spain and UNIDO. Its objective is to promote the deployment of sustainable energy technologies in ECOWAS Member States. The Centre’s priority areas of intervention include: development of Policies, Legal and Regulatory Frameworks; Capacity Development; Awareness Raising and Knowledge Management; and Project Development and Investment Promotion.
Within 8 years of operations, ECREEE has successfully executed several programmes and has since attained international recognition as a unique regional sustainable energy promotion agency in Sub-Saharan Africa. Other regional organizations such as the Southern and Eastern African regions, the Pacific, Caribbean, Himalayan regions have emulated ECOWAS and established similar sustainable centres.
At the request of ECOWAS Energy Ministers, ECREEE also serves as the implementation agency for the Sustainable Energy for All (SEForALL) Initiative in the ECOWAS region. ECREEE also supports the work of the Africa Energy Leaders Group (AELG), a working group of Leading African political and economic leaders, pooling their complementary skills to build momentum for a new vision to the Africa energy challenge.
The ECOWAS region has also taken bold and significant steps towards enhancing the policy and regulatory environment for sustainable energy investments in the ECOWAS Member States. In July 2013, the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government adopted two path-breaking policies - the ECOWAS Renewable Energy Policy (EREP), and the ECOWAS Energy Efficiency Policy (EEEP). These two policies aims at increasing the share of renewable energy in the region’s overall electricity mix to 48% by 2030, and also implement measures to save 2,000 MW of power generation capacity. In order to attain the targets of the regional sustainable energy policies, ECOWAS Member States, with the support of ECREEE and partners, have developed their respective National Sustainable Energy Country Action Plans, and SE4All Investment Prospectuses. When implemented, these plans will fundamentally revolutionize the region’s energy sector in a sustainable manner.
Across the region, from Cabo Verde to Senegal, Burkina Faso, Ghana and other Member States, encouraging developments in the area of clean and sustainable energy projects are occurring. Over 200 clean energy mini-grids are already operational, with more underway. At the same time, over 130 projects, with a total capacity of over 7 GW of grid-connected power plants, driven by both public and private sector players, are currently at various levels of development.
In 2017, the ECOWAS Heads of States adopted the West Africa Clean Energy Corridor initiative. The Initiative has four (4) renewable energy components - solar, wind, hydropower and biomass energy; and was created by ECREEE in collaboration with multiple stakeholders. The West Africa Solar Corridor aims to develop 2 gigawatts in solar generation capacity by 2020 and 10 gigawatts by 2030. When completed, the West Africa Solar Corridor will meet a significant share of the region’s demand for electricity with solar energy by making use of the high solar irradiation in the region, and will also allow for lower generation cost.
ECREEE is also focused on decentralized solutions, such as micro-grids, mini-grids, and Solar Home Systems (SHS). The Centre is currently implementing a regional mini-grid rural electrification project, which aims at electrifying 4,000 rural localities using renewable energy based mini-grids. ECREEE is also executing a $200 million ECREEE-World Bank Off-grid Regional Electrification Project (ROGEP), which aims to increase access to sustainable electricity services through standalone systems to at least 10 million people.
The ECOWAS region’s sustainable energy sector is currently at the threshold of significant developments. The goal is to be the top destination for energy investments in the not-too-distant future. ECOWAS Governments are committed to providing adequate incentives for private sector engagement as they strive to diversify energy supply through regional integration, exploitation of abundant sustainable energy resources, and increasing access to energy.