As the oil price continues to rise, many African oil-importing countries are beginning to look at ways of lessening their dependence on the fuel.
Whilst continuing high oil prices are good news for the 13 African countries which are net oil exporters, for the 42 oil-importing countries, higher prices are creating serious challenges.
Africa, however, does not need to rely solely on oil. It has rich natural resources. Take the sun. In the Sahara desert, the sun pours down the energy equivalent of 1.5 million barrels of oil of energy for every square kilometer. The deserts could unlock enough energy for Africa or Europe, if not the world.
Two recent reports for the German government, argue that we should be building vast solar farms in North Africa’s deserts using a simple technology that more resembles using a magnifying glass to burn a hole in a piece of paper than any space age technology. Scientists calculate that covering just 0.5% of the world’s hot deserts with a technology called concentrated solar power (CSP) would provide the world’s entire electricity needs, with the technology also providing desalinated water to desert regions as a valuable byproduct, as well as air conditioning for nearby cities.
The mirrors are very large and create shaded areas underneath which can be used for horticulture irrigated by desalinated water generated by the plants. The cold water that can also be produced for air conditioning means there are three benefits. “It is this triple use of the energy which really boost the overall energy efficiency of these kinds of plants up to 80% to 90%,” says one of the scientists, Dr Gerhard Knies. What’s more, CSP is competitive with oil, currently priced around $60 a barrel.
Next are biofuels. The Indian government has just announced that it will give US$250 million towards a fund to boost biofuel production in 15 West African countries. Ghana’s vice president Alhaji Aliu Mahama recently announced the fund which will be set up by the Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) of the Economic Community of West African States. As a first step, EBID will provide US$35 million for a jatropha biodiesel project in Ghana. But Benin, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal, led by Ghana, have pioneered research on biofuel and jatropha plantations. Jatropha oil’s low cost and ease of cultivation make it an attractive crop for biofuel production.
Meanwhile in Zambia, D1 Oils Africa, a British company, has developed 174,000 hectares of crops which it is turning into biodiesel. This fuel is made from vegetable or animal oils for use in diesel engines. Mr. Demetri Pappadopoulos, the chief executive of D1 Oils Africa, says the government has played an important role in the project, “which will result in cultivating oil-bearing crops as a sustainable source for the betterment of the country.”
Finally: Hydro-electricity. A recent report by Africa Renewal found that: “The generation of hydro-electricity is the main alternative source of energy currently being developed in Africa, but much more could be done. Africa has huge and untapped rivers which are suitable for the building of dams needed to produce the water flow which turns the turbines and produces electricity. Unlike oil, the water can be reused”.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two dams which were earlier built at Inga Falls are currently inactive, victims of the country’s economic and political turmoil. The World Bank and other investors are planning to spend $500 mn to get them working again. There is also a plan to build a third dam on the Inga River.
So you have many countries in Africa like Angola and Nigeria profiting from oil, but others beginning to move away to alternative energy. You should ask the people of the Niger Delta if it is time to switch too.