Ghana stands to benefit from Solar

Sat, 10 May 2014 Source: Yaa O. Asare-Peasah/ E. Agbenyega

       These days, it is common to hear people talking about the problems of Ghana’s infrastructure especially the challenges in the power sector.

     On public transport, in offices and on radio and television stations, discussions are centred on how the country’s electricity problems can be solved.

     All manner of solutions have been put forward, yet none of the suggested remedies have helped in solving the long-term challenges due to lack of sustainability as it is the key to achieve benefits for both humanity and the planet, while also looking towards long-term welfare.

     In examining the nation’s energy sector, one evaluates sustainability by identifying how much of the energy comes from renewable sources: resources which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. Renewable energy replaces conventional fuels in four distinct areas: electricity generation, hot water/space heating, motor fuels, and rural (off-grid) energy services.

    The incentive to pivot towards having the bulk of our energy needs supplied from renewable energy sources is both a result of growing international eco-consciousness and the recognition that dependence on fossil fuels and other non-sustainable solutions is a dangerous, shortsighted strategy.

   The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that there are few fundamental technological limits to integrating a portfolio of renewable energy technologies to meet most of the total global energy demand. Clearly, it is expedient to continue to steer our country in the direction of sustainable solutions, which can support the booming growth currently observed in emerging economies such as ours.

    As our industries grow and Ghana in particular looks towards fostering a supportive business climate where both local and international investment can thrive, stable and dependable infrastructure becomes more and more essential.

    Mark Zachary Jacobson, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Stanford University and Director of its Atmosphere and Energy Programme, has stated that producing all new energy with wind power, solar power, and hydropower by 2030 is feasible though existing energy supply arrangements could be replaced by 2050.

    While many have speculated that high costs associated with sustainable solutions and the need for sophisticated technology to support them make such options prohibitive, the truth is that our current technological and financial capacities are quite sufficient. Jacobson notes that the barriers to implementing a renewable energy plan are "primarily social and political and not technological or economic." Furthermore, current research indicates that when decreasing prices are taken into account, projected wind, solar and water energy costs will soon be similar to today's costs.

     Among its counterparts in the sub-region, Ghana has shown impressive leadership on the renewable energy front. A strong policy focus from government has kept the nation’s compass pointed in the direction of sustainability. Already, the country is leveraging green energy solutions such as biomass to meet its current energy needs.

     Biomass resources cover about 20.8 million hectares of the 23.8 million hectare landmass of Ghana, supplying about 60 per cent of the total energy currently used within our borders. The nation’s vast arable and degraded land has the potential for the cultivation of crops and plans, which could potentially be exploited for the generation of solid and liquid biofuels.

     As the government steers the country towards a greater focus on renewable energy, its goal is to increase the proportion of renewable energy in the national energy supply mix. In doing so, a number of objectives would be achieved: Ghana would begin to adhere to global standards of sustainability; the country would contribute to the mitigation of climate change; and, the nation would ensure its own energy security by establishing an appropriate breadth of energy solutions which support the national power grid in the long term.

     Pursuant to this, government is already working to address any hurdles that stand in the way of Ghana’s deployment of renewable energy solutions. 

    The state’s objective is to increase the renewable energy mix from the current one per cent to 10 per cent by 2020. To achieve this, government has taken a number of steps to broaden the existing energy generation base. This includes further utilisation of biomass technology, expansion of existing hydroelectric capacity in order to meet the nation’s growing energy needs.     

     One example of these off-grid electrification projects is the installation of public solar facilities in existing off-grid communities, bringing the total number of installed systems to 752 nationwide. These facilities were installed in public institutions such as police stations, health centres and schools.

    Another project, which shows significant promise is the solar plant to be built in the Ellembelle District of the Western Region by Mere Power Nzema Limited (MPNL), a subsidiary of the Blue Energy in the United Kingdom.

     The project, which is in line with government’s renewable energy agenda, would provide about 500 jobs in construction, 200 people when in operation and another 700 jobs in support services.

     When constructed, the 155MW solar photovoltaic plant would be the largest solar plant in Africa and consist of more than  630,000 solar modules producing 240,000MWh of green, eco-friendly power for the country each year. By its contribution to national power generation, the plant should give a substantial boost to the country’s renewable energy mix ratios.

    It is clear that sustainability has real-life applications and holds potential for significant practical benefit to our society. A nation with sustainable energy infrastructure is more efficient, attractive business climate for investors, and has a greater immunity to fluctuating prices in global energy markets.

     As a long-term solution to the challenges, renewable energy stands out as a critical policy focus to usher along the evolution of the country’s power sector and provide much-needed respite to Ghana. Supporting renewable energy initiatives can only benefit the citizenry, both in the immediate and in future.

Columnist: Yaa O. Asare-Peasah/ E. Agbenyega