It’s time for East African countries to pursue sustainable energy policies

January 5, 2014

As East African countries struggles to develop energy policies, they might want to take a look at their southern neighbors like Zambia and South Africa for some guidance and success stories. The two countries have many similar characteristics to Eastern African countries from massive power shortages, high levels of poverty rate, fast growing and booming economies, and aging national grid lines. Increasing need for renewable energy sources in East African region will force the region to focus its attention in its tremendous potential to produce renewable energies like solar and wind, the market is there and the region just need a policy to move forward which unfortunately no one seems to be interested in harmonizing the five countries policies. Central and Northern Tanzania, Eastern and Northern Kenya, North Eastern Uganda are some of the regions could be among one of the biggest solar and wind energies producers with their massive potential. East African countries are very fortunate to have sunshine more than 12 hours a day, not to mention they are second to none when it comes to regional corporation. Me think it would be easier for the East African governments to introduce a new policies, including prioritizing the production of renewable energy sources and cooperation will always be the best bet as I said few months back.

Unfortunately, no country has independently conducted feasibility studies about the potential of renewable energies and information available remain inaccessible and hence the scarcity for investment in the sector. As I wrote few months ago, universities can play a role such studied . Countries like Uganda could use studies that have been done by research companies and private organization to make adjustments to attract investors to invest in solar energies in less developed areas like Karamoja. East African countries can no longer rely on fossil fuels alone to generate power for their economies and its people estimated to be close 140 million as at the end of 2013. In Kenya, geothermal energy is being touted as a possible alternative to hydro power and after all the country has of the highest reserves of geothermal energy in the world, but only taps less than 10% of this energy although that is expected to change radically with completion of Africa’s largest geo thermal power plan in Olkaria near Naivasha. Tanzania, on the other hand, is expected to get its energy needs from gas powered electricity sources, making it of the largest gas producer in the region, behind only the Mozambique. All East African countries, however, face identical challenges conflicting regulations, opposition from environmental groups and resistance from shady non-governmental groups.

The only way out is for the five countries to overcome these challenges through painstaking work and persuasion as well as political will among local leaders where those projects are planned. The Ethiopian government has decided to build a hydro power plant in the Blue Nile that flows from Ethiopia to Sudan and Egypt dubbed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. According to Ethiopian government, the power plant is expected to generate 6,000MW hydro power and 15,692 GWh average energy to the national grid despite the controversy it stirred at the time of launch after Sudan and Egypt outcry about diversion of river Nile waters that are used by millions in the two countries. Ethiopia conducted scientific surveys on the site to assess the environmental impact and held many consultations with stakeholders to explain about the project including their friendly southern neighbors Kenya and that it took couple of years for the project to start. There is an important lesson in how countries like Zambia and South Africa have succeeded, and East African policy makers should learn from their fellow African countries. I was taught at the university that studies are conducted to obtain details and to determine the direction of the policy. Despite the different climate conditions, the need for a new source of energy in East African region remains the same. Energy security in East African countries is delicate because governments still have to subsidize it, even though some have gradually reduced subsidies there is still need to deal with unstable energy prices and power outages. To address this insecurity, the regional policy makers need to come up with concrete renewable energy policies that will spur investments in the region and attract manufacturers in the process creating plenitude of jobs.

Contador Harrison