The West Africa Clean Energy Corridor (WACEC) aimed at accelerating the deployment of utility scale renewable energy into the region, was launched in Cape Town on Wednesday, with a warning for governments and power utilities to play their part to harness benefits of renewable energy.
The launch was part of the African Utility Week Conference currently underway.
Renewable Energy expert at the Ecowas Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (Ecreee) Jansénio Delgado told delegates at least 52% of the population in the region have no access to electricity.
“So we have a big challenge in the region in terms of energy and electricity access,” he said.
According to Delgado the plan is to increase access to at least 88% of the population by 2030, but there are some challenges, he conceded.
Delgado said the region has big potential especially for renewable energy and specifically hydro power.
“The region has big potential in terms of renewable energy from hydro, solar, wind and biomass. These resources are geographically distributed which makes them complimentary.”
He explained there is already a big pipeline of projects underway with Senegal taking the lead.
According to him preliminary conclusions show the development of 10 GW electricity can still be injected into the grid by 2030.
“So the utilities and electrical companies should adapt to renewable energy as a next phase of electricity generation.”
He also foresees the cost of electricity levelling in future as the development of solar electricity generation technology becomes less costly.
“But of course,” Delgado admits, “solar energy also has problems.”
He referred to challenges which include intermittency and non-availability of solar energy at times.
“So we need complimentary with other sources of renewable energy like hydro and that is the reason why we are at the same time also developing a hydro corridor for the region.”
Delgado said another problem is the perception of risk among potential investors and they had to embark on various “derisking activities” in some Ecowas-countries.
This includes strengthening the policy framework by simplifying processes for procurement and pricing.
Delgado insists it is technically possible to inject renewable energy into the grids.
“For me it is not a big problem in terms of connectivity of renewables into the grids. The preliminary results show it is technically possible, he said.
“Of course it is a new concept and utilities are conservative and want to stay in the base concepts that they have that are easiest which is to manage the grid and fossil fuel plans but technically speaking it is possible.”
According to him, utilities are usually reluctant to have intermittence of renewables in their system. There are usually also problems with guarantees because in some regions the guarantees investors want, cannot be given.
But it can be economically viable for the region, he maintains.
Delgado said there is the idea that renewables are expensive. “But the time is coming that renewables will really be a competitive source of energy.”
Senior operations advisor at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Ellen Moran, in turn said it can be done and referred to examples in California where there is already a 50/50 energy mix. “But it has to be complimentary.”
According to Moran the challenge outside developed countries however, is problems with financially sound utilities.
“In many countries where utilities are in bad shape it is because the largest customer is the government and it usually does not pay utility bills regularly. So if governments are interested in growing the economy, they will have to do their bit.”
Henning Wuester, director of knowledge policy & finance at the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) welcomed the initiative and said they are very happy to work with Ecreee on this project.
The WACEC project is based on Irena’s similar initiatives in South and Eastern Africa.
“We want to stress that by creating these renewable energy corridors in ways that you can integrate it into the grid, you can so create regional markets.” He said renewable energy can be more effective in bigger settings and lessen dependence on local options.”