East African region should pursue alternative sources of energy

November 13, 2013

As East African countries struggles to develop a comprehensive and sustainable energy policy there is need for energy strategists to come up with an alternative to existing sources of electricity generation. The five countries of East African Community have many similar challenges when it comes to power costs and deficits. A region of estimated 136 million people can no longer rely on fossil fuels alone to generate power for their booming economies and growing populations. The region’s energy sector is facing major challenges because the demand for energy is expanding on the back of economic and population growth and greater urbanization. The region has an evolving energy dynamics and is a challenging environment for policy makers when it comes to regional relationships. Wind, geothermal and Solar energy can act as a possible alternative to the hydro power that mainly powers the region. Research shows the region has very high reserves of geothermal especially in Kenya and Uganda, gas and solar energy but only taps less than 5% percent of the total proven capacity. Kenya leads the region in exploitation and development of geothermal energy that accounts for more than ten per cent of its installed power capacity.

To address the power deficit, East African Community countries must address regulations stifling investments and concerns of local people who are displaced by such projects and also heed conservation groups advise and opinions. Innovation in the energy sector need to be encouraged through joint regional cooperation in funding research and development through EAC governments and private partnership. For example with the help of SADC member Tanzania, the region can reach out to countries like South Africa for assistance in this area. In Tanzania, the government has overcome these challenges through persuasion and is in the process of implementing a mammoth Wind and gas power projects. One area where power project implementations processes have failed is the disregard of scientific studies conducted by independent researchers on the proposed projects sites to assess the environmental impact. The other is lack of inclusive consultations with stakeholders to explain about the project need to taken care of. According to studies conducted few months ago, the regional uneven economic development and scarce energy funding makes the integrating of the region’s power infrastructure a huge task. Me think regional policies should encourage the development of cleaner fuel sources and enlarge the role of renewable energy sources. The region’s energy outlook mirrors regional developments and is a fundamental issue when it comes to economic and security matters. EAC countries should leverage their existing cooperation to ensure certainty in 136 million people’s region energy security.

To ensure that energy supplies going forward are secure, affordable and environmentally sustainable, the governments of the East African Community should embarked on initiatives aimed at addressing chronic power problem. United Republic of Tanzania is set to begin exporting liquefied natural gas in the next few years. The country is among the emerging new LNG exporters, with its planned LNG terminal expected to turn the land of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere into a trading hub for the East African region. The EAC’s energy supplies could receive a boost if regulatory issues are addressed. East African countries should ensure that they fully optimize the region’s energy resources and strive toward smooth implementation of their energy projects and further promote renewable energy growth as suggested by President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete during his address to the country’s parliament last week. Although the ‘coalition of willing’ that comprises Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda has mega plans to tackle regulations like tariff and non-tariff barriers that have been impacting regional investment there is need for the same regarding new energy sources to be eased. Kenya and Tanzania have existing power plans but there are existing challenges to cross-border power development projects that need to be addressed. For instance, several cross-border projects have been delayed like Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya power transmission plan due to legal and regulations challenges. Rising energy demand across the five countries will inevitably lead to inter-state competition for available resources which would be bad for the future of Africa’s most successful regional economic bloc.

Contador Harrison