Biogas: Alternative energy solution


The nature of energy challenges that are affecting Africa requires that local energy resources be appropriately managed and used. Energy is an essential requirement to keep pace with the fast moving world today. 

Whether it is lightening up of houses, transportation or health services provision, energy is a prerequisite for these aspects of modern life.

To improve access to energy, in 2012 Southern Africa embarked on a programme to increase the availability of various energy sources by 2027 at a total cost of more than US$200 billion.

Globally, 1.3 billion people according to the United Nations 2014 report on the World Water Development are not connected to any electric power grid while 2.7 billion people still prepare food on inefficient and carbon-hungry open fires.

Energy has always been an issue in rural areas due to economic reasons where the power generating companies have little or no returns from the investments.

The UN report has been corroborated by the International Energy Agency which estimated that if there is no major policy action by governments and increased investment in the electricity sector, 650 million Africans will be living without electricity by 2030, compared with 500 million today.

However, the United Nations estimates that an average of $35 billion-40 billion a year needs to be invested in the next 15 years to improve economies, for households to cook, heat and have energy for productive uses such as schooling. 

To improve such, a total amount of $477 billion is required to make energy access universal from 2016-2030 and expertise and a global framework are needed.

To achieve energy self-sufficiency is the tool that will improve the Southern African Development Community’s chances of meeting the region’s industrialisation programmes, creating opportunities for people to come out of the poverty trap.

Carlos Lopes, the executive secretary for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa pointed out if Africa’s current energy demands are not met, the continent’s “aspirations will be a pipe dream”.

“By investing in the long-term energy solutions of cleaner technologies, mini-grids or stand-alone off-grid installations in local or rural areas that are cost effective, African countries can significantly benefit in the longer term, while avoiding problems developed nations are currently facing.

“Statistics show that the African continent loses 2% to 3% of its GDP due to the lack of reliable energy sources. We need to use alternative energy sources so that we boost our industries,” says Lopes.

The challenges hindering the development, control, and preservation of energy sources and the unreliability of energy supplies have even hampered industrial performance.

Kenya-based scientist Segenet Kelemu, the laureate for Africa and the Arab states in the 2014 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards for Women in Science said as African governments thrive to address electrical power shortages, solar energy and hydropower may not be adequate energy sources for sub-Saharan’s estimated 70 percent rural population.

To ease pressure on land by avoiding deforestation, environmentalists and scientists have pointed out that biogas can be an alternative energy source. 

Though it is not the solution to the energy woes, experts have agreed that biogas can go a long way.

As governments also move in to engage the private sector on sustainable energy solutions, biogas technology has been highlighted as a promising way to provide energy, especially in rural areas. Biogas refers to a gas produced by the biological breakdown of organic waste such as dead plant, animal material, and kitchen waste.

Michela Miletto, coordinator of the UN’s World Water Assessment Programme 2014 report, pointed out that biogas can help to meet the energy needs of Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Africa is the only region of the world in which the total number of people without access to electricity is rising. 

Governments are scrambling to find ways to meet the growing energy needs of their citizens and biogas could be a solution,” she said.

According to the UN, “a huge amount of investment is required to solve the problem of energy poverty.”

“The governments of this world have to think about the future of this world in a brighter way. It is thus necessary to answer the question: “Do we want a dark future or a lightened one?” read the UN report.

May 2015
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