The Eastern Africa region is endowed with a variety of energy resources requisite for sustainable development. These energy resources, which are widely distributed throughout the region, include hydro, wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, peat and fossil fuels.
Energy Sector in East Africa
Despite this enormous potential, the region's energy sector remains largely undeveloped and is characterized by extremely low levels of modern energy access, low per capita consumption and heavy reliance on biomass energy, which accounts for over 90% of total energy consumption across the region. Access to electricity in rural areas across the region is less than 1% in rural areas. Wood fuel provides energy needs of the traditional sector including rural and poor urban households and some cottage industries whilst electricity and petroleum products supply a large fraction of the countries commercial energy needs.
The energy sector is dominated by petroleum and electricity as the drivers of modern sectors of the economy. Biomass is predominantly used at the household level. A considerable amount of biomass is also used in the services/commercial and industrial sectors. The recent high usage of biomass in these sectors has been attributed to rising prices of petroleum products, inadequate and inefficient power supply systems arising from stunted growth in generation capacity and a poor transmission and distribution infrastructure.
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Biomass contributes about 90% of the total energy consumed in most of the Eastern African countries. It provides almost all the energy used to meet basic energy needs for cooking and water heating in rural and most urban households, institutions, and commercial entities. Biomass is also the main source of energy for rural industries. Limited availability of electricity and high prices of petroleum products as is the case for most of the countries, constitute barriers to a reduction in the demand for biomass. Trading in biomass especially charcoal contributes to the rural economy, in terms of rural incomes, tax revenue and employment.
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Hydropower is an important renewable source of energy because it plays an important role in the region’s energy system and its development. However, as of 2007, in Eastern Africa less than 10% of its potential has been developed and Africa generally has the lowest annual per capita consumption in the world (450 kWh). Most countries have a low electrification rate and face many problems. These problems include inadequate resettlement and a lack of benefit sharing, socioeconomic issues like failure to address rural energy needs, and negative environmental impacts.
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Solar energy is an ideal alternative source of energy because of its potential in the region. Most of the countries experience sun nearly year round and solar radiation of between 4 – 6 kWh/m2/day has been estimated.
The main barrier to use of solar energy is the high cost of solar energy technologies coupled with the lack of purchasing power of the population. The resource requires a substantial initial cost which many people cannot afford. The irony is that in most of the Eastern Africa countries, rural population is the targeted market because of being off grid power. Several strategies have been put in place by government to promote solar energy, especially for rural electrification.
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Wind energy is not exploited that much in most of the Eastern African countries. The reasons for this range from site selection dynamics in some countries like Kenya to inadequate resource information in other countries. It has been estimated that the resource is exploitable in the range 2.5 – 6 m/s in most of the countries.
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Challenges Affecting the Exploitation of Renewable Energies in East Africa
Challenges impeding the development of the energy resources include barriers in technical, technological, economic capacity and institutional weaknesses. Unfavourable policy also impedes energy resource development. Policies that focus on promoting options for rural energy supply, such as solar energy, wind energy and extension of the grid to rural areas need to be put in place to tap into the vast natural energy resources available across the region. Entry incentives need to be created and barriers broken in order to `allow renewable energy technologies to enter the market and contribute to strengthening and diversifying supply of modern energy services.
For more information on challenges and issues affecting the exploitation of renewable energies in the respective East African countries, click on the links below:
GTZ (2007): Eastern Africa Resource Base: GTZ Online Regional Energy Resource Base: Regional and Country Specific Energy Resource Database: II - Energy Resource.