opportunities such as those above, is crucial also in enabling people to be more
resilient to the impacts of climate change. Energy access can help reduce reliance
on rain-fed agriculture as a single source of income.
However, with world fossil energy prices high and fluctuating, many African
countries spending large proportions of their foreign reserves on fossil fuel imports,
and the critical global issue of climate change meaning that carbon reductions must
be contained, fossil fuels cannot be considered a complete or long term solution to
the expansion of energy access which is required to combat poverty. Renewable
energy based on indigenous energy resources of water, wind, sun, biomass and
geothermal resources offer the potential to address at least part of this problem.
Particularly in rural areas far from the likely reach of the electricity grid in the
foreseeable future, decentralised renewables can be a cost effective and
responsive energy resource on which to build rural development. Such solutions
have minimal local environmental impacts, and although often entailing relatively
high initial capital costs, can offer reductions in operating and lifetime costs versus
a fossil fuelled scenario, even where likely increases in fossil fuel prices into the
future are not taken into account.
However decentralised renewables bring with them their own challenges. These
include the intermittency of some renewable sources meaning that energy storage
(e.g. batteries) can be required, with solar for example. Attention to maintenance
and management systems is also often required in rural areas to ensure that
systems stay in productive operation over their lifetimes. Such issues, and
opportunities, are discussed in more detail in the next section.
2. Applying renewable energy
Renewable energy is energy that comes from a source that cannot be depleted,
such as the sun, rivers and wind, or can be quickly replenished, as with biomass
and human inputs. Renewable energy technologies (RETs) convert energy from
the renewable source to provide a useful energy service.
Energy services are commonly grouped by three energy vectors: modern fuels,
electricity and mechanical power. Modern fuels provide for the energy services
cooking and heating (as well as transport); electricity enables lighting, cooling
(including refrigeration) and communications; and mechanical power provides for
many processing and productive uses. Table 3 outlines the suitability of common
RETs that are applicable for meeting the energy needs of poor people in
developing countries. The RETs are grouped by source: biomass, solar, water,
wind, human and liquid fuel. This toolkit will focus on RETs that are suitable for
the full range of energy services, but will not include transport.
Biomass is a general term which covers a wide variety of material of plant or
animal origin. Biomass energy is harnessed through improved cook stove
technology and used for cooking and heating. Solar energy technologies use the
sun’s power for generating electricity, drying, heating and cooling (through
evaporation). Energy in water can be harnessed in many ways; water energy
technologies can be used for generating electricity, agro/food processing and water
Renewable Energy to Reduce Poverty in Africa