Developing renewable energy sectors and technologies in West Africa.

Author:Reiss, Karin

By the time Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, which seeks to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had already rolled out their regional road map and presented their national action agendas to attain it. The region seems to be on the fast track to getting out of the energy poverty trap.


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is comprised of the 15 sovereign States of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo--united in their collective desire to achieve regional integration in all sectors of economic activity, as well as in social and cultural spheres. With an expanding population of over 334.6 million people, ECOWAS member States represent about one third of sub-Saharan Africa's total population. The region encompasses a diverse set of demographic, socioeconomic, and social contexts and, just as the landscape, the culture, nature and climate are varied, so are the challenges to overcome the population's lack of access to sustainable energy.

The ECOWAS region ranks among the lowest in terms of electricity access rates in the world, with only about 42 per cent of the total population, and 8 per cent of rural residents having access to electricity. The region is confronted with the realities of energy vulnerability, fuel price volatility and system unreliability. Energy poverty and its consequences for local economies and social development are projected to remain the predominant challenge for West Africa through to 2030. Electricity access varies widely, from Niger with an electrification rate of just 9 per cent (2011), to Cabo Verde which has achieved nearly universal access. However, national rates mask wide disparities between access in urban versus rural areas, which remain underserved by grid networks supplying major cities. The estimated share of rural populations with access to electricity can be as low as 1 per cent in countries such as Guinea or Sierra Leone.

Cooking accounts for a large share of regional energy use. On average, 85.7 per cent of the population currently uses solid fuels (predominantly wood and charcoal) for cooking, with national figures ranging from 98 per cent in Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali and Sierra Leone, to less than 30 per cent in Cabo Verde. The region's reliance on traditional biomass and solid fuels has enormous negative effects on the environment and health, particularly for women and children.

West Africa's economies already are and will inevitably be even more confronted with the effects of climate change in the coming decades. Hence the increasingly urgent need to both mitigate emissions and promote regionally appropriate adaptation measures, while striving to achieve sustainable development objectives. Given the region's vulnerability to climate change, the urgent need for reliable and affordable energy poses a dilemma for policymakers.

Launching the United Nations Secretary-General's Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative and declaring the decade 2014-2024 as the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All addresses three objectives: i) ensuring universal access to modern energy services; ii) doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and iii) doubling the share of renewable energy. ECOWAS is one of the strongest supporters of the SE4ALL initiative launched to guide the member States out...

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