Southern African News Features                                           SANF 09 No 03, January 2009
African renewable energy attracts attention

The potential for renewable energy development in Africa is growing as both investors and regional leaders seek a new clean energy frontier.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the continent could become a "gold mine" for renewable energy due to abundant hydro, solar and wind resources.

This is because the continent has substantial new and renewable energy resources, most of which are under-exploited.

For instance, the AfDB points out that only seven percent of Africaís enormous hydro potential has been harnessed. Existing estimates of hydro potential do not include small, mini and micro hydro opportunities, which are also significant.

Geothermal energy potential stands at 9000 megawatts (MW), but only about 60MW has been exploited in Kenys and Tanzania. Estimates further indicate that a significant proportion of current electricity generation in 16 eastern and southern African countries could be met by bagasse-based cogeneration in the sugar industry.

However, the development of the industry has been made difficult by lack of financial resources and poor infrastructure.

Meeting at the Africa Carbon Forum in Senegal at the end of 2008, officials from the African Union (AU), AfDB, and power utilities shared strategies for "Clean Development Mechanism" (CDM) projects on the continent such as greenhouse gas-reducing initiatives.

The focus of the meeting was centred on the possibility of future CDM projects under a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.

Yet so far, Africa has benefited the least among all continents from the US$7 billion annual CDM market.

Since the European Union began trading "carbon credits" through its Emissions Trading Scheme in 2005, only 27 of the 1,156 CDM projects included under the scheme have been registered in Africa.

A report by the AfDB released at the meeting provides further evidence of the continentís potential.

Sub-Saharan Africa has potential to provide more than 170 gigawatts (GW) of additional power-generation capacity -- more than double the sub-regionís current installations through 3,200 "low-carbon" energy projects, such as combined heat-and-power, biofuels production, mass transportation, and energy efficiency, says the report.

CDM is part of the current global framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. It provides three market-based mechanisms through which emission reductions can be achieved cost-effectively while promoting local sustainable development.

The mechanism has emerged as the most concrete way in which countries in the region can currently access the growing carbon market, with South Africa leading the race to participate in carbon emissions trading as other countries continue to assess the market.

Countries abiding by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol agree to participate in an international market in carbon "credits" that allow them to offset carbon dioxide emissions by investing in projects that reduce emissions elsewhere.

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