It is a well-known fact that most African countries have poor energy supplies. About 620 million Africans (60% of the entire continent’s population) live without a reliable electricity source, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB)’s 2014 Development Effectiveness Review on Energy. In addition to that, some countries in Sub Saharan Africa even experience daylight power cuts and this hinders economic growth.
Most African countries face many challenges in this era of globalization on their quest to achieve the developed nation status. Sustainable development of the energy sector is pivotal in the process of attaining economic competitiveness and progress. Use of fossil fuel has been rampant and also the cutting down of trees for firewood. These two practices contribute to more concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Burning of fossil fuels leads to increased carbon emission while the cutting down of trees means less carbon dioxide is absorbed in the atmosphere.
Development of wind energy sources is one way which does not contribute to the emission of more greenhouse gases, while being a lot cheaper and attainable to most African countries. Generating electricity from wind energy is based on the fact that kinetic energy of wind can be changed into electrical energy. The main challenge this process faces is developing cost effective wind turbines and power plants to do the conversion process. The widely used turbines are basically horizontal axis machines with three blades positioned upwind of the tower. Why should we really care about wind energy development from an economic standpoint?
Wind energy comes with economic development in the following ways:
1. Improved GDP. Several sectors benefit from the development of wind energy and these are businesses that are involved along the lifetime of wind farms. They include those in wind farm development, consulting services, finance and other business services, retail trade, component manufacturing, industrial goods distribution, and construction.
2. Job creation. Wind energy projects are anchored to a geographic area. As a result, they have significant impact on local communities and economies during construction and operation by creating jobs and supporting local businesses.
3. Higher living standards. Wind farms can also create stable incomes. Landowners receive rental for the turbine sites, roadways, and power line easements. This rental can help preserve and protect traditional uses of rural lands. In most cases, this provides substantial new income. For those owners who rely primarily on agriculture or forestry, where incomes can vary depending on weather patterns and commodity prices, regular lease payments create more stability in incomes and diversify income sources.
4. Energy import reduction. Most African countries also import a lot of energy. If they develop wind energy, they can significantly cut down their budget expenditure on energy imports.
5. Infrastructure development. Such kind of projects also lead to development of infrastructure in the areas of development . The surrounding communities may get hospitals and schools. This may also boost tourism in that particular area.
Any progress made?
As far as the development of wind energy is concerned, great strides have been achieved in Ethiopia at Ashegoda Wind Farm, the largest in Africa.
Ashegoda Wind Farm
Ashegoda has 84 wind turbines and it is found in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, about 775 km from the capital, Addis Ababa. Ashegoda turbines which provide 120MW are the largest on the subcontinent. The main plan is to convert the energy sector into being carbon neutral by 2025. Again it is interesting to see how the developed countries are chipping in to help. This wind farm is a $313 million wind farm funded by the French government and also private French banks, not neglecting increased interest from the Chinese and Turkish Investments as well. This project took four years to complete.
Ethiopia sees this project as a way to relieve the firewood problems that the country has been facing. Additionally, Ethiopia is already exporting power to neighbouring countries such as Djibouti and Sudan. The country is definitely harnessing the plethora of benefits which come with such a key development.
Looking ahead, the wind energy industry will continue to be multi-faceted and interdisciplinary. As more wind farms are installed across Africa, employment opportunities within the industry are expected to increase. The economic contribution of the wind energy industry to Africa goes beyond employment and contribution to GDP. The wind energy industry also encourages exports and tourism, promotes R&D and skill development, supports regional economic development, improves the security of energy supply and provides a renewable source of energy. All these benefits can be exploited at a greater scale if favorable policies are put in place in the whole of Africa.
(Image Credits: Stanford Engineering)