I’m continuing on the discussion about energy services for the poor. How to end energy poverty and thereby to help end poverty overall. And I’ll continue with the focus on tropical Africa which we’ve seen is a region that has a lot of poverty, but also a lot of potential where technology is now enabling Africa to break free of its chronic low levels of modern energy services.
And in this chapter I’d like to discuss some of the continent scale solutions that can be at hand given the advances of energy technologies.
In the map on the upper left we see the hydropower potential. And I want to draw your attention to the country right in the middle of the continent, the one that is shown as having the highest hydro potential. That’s the Democratic Republic of Congo with the Congo River that offers a potential for a vast supply of hydroelectric power, but a supply that has not yet been tapped given the poverty, the disorganization, the chronic wars and violence and the difficulties of regional cooperation. I’ll return to that shortly.
If you look at the upper right-hand map, you see a corner of Africa, especially in the northeast, where there is considerable wind power potential. And some of that wind power is now being developed. If you look at the northwest corner, of Morocco, you see another place with tremendous wind power, even enough wind power not only to meet Morocco’s own needs, but potentially to export to Europe through long distance power transmission.
On the lower left-hand side, the continent is filled with high potential to solar power. Not surprising. Africa is tropical, it has a tremendous amount of solar radiation. And much of Africa is a dryland climate, meaning that cloud cover is relatively low and therefore solar radiation and the potential for solar energy is commensurately high. And solar power is perhaps one of the greatest breakthroughs that is possible in some of the very, very poorest parts of the world, and especially in west Africa, the Sahel, a region that we’ll look at in just a moment in more detail.
And then finally and very interestingly, if you look at a, the band of countries from Egypt in the north of Africa, shaded here in light blue, through Sudan, through the great lakes region, including Kenya, the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, and going down into southern Africa you see a potential area of high geothermal energy.
What is that region? That is the Great Rift Valley of Africa. It is part of the spreading continental plates that open the access of countries along the Rift Valley to potentially very large amounts of geothermal energy. And this is now beginning to be tapped in very promising ways in Kenya, in Tanzania, in Rwanda and a lot more can be done.
All of this is to say that while Africa was poor in coal resources, the decisive primary energy source of the 19th Century and relatively poor or at least with undiscovered potential of hydrocarbons during the 20th Century, because of technological advances in renewable energy, in wind and in solar power, in geothermal, and because of increased know-how and potential on hydropower, Africa has within the continent itself a tremendous potential for a massive advance in electrification.
This is a picture of a, a power generation, hydropower at Inga Falls along the Congo River. There is a small amount of electricity being produced at this site of high hydropower potential in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But since the mid-1960s it’s been recognized that if this hydropower were tapped in full, there’s actually one of the world’s largest hydroelectric power potentials available at the Grand Inga Falls.
Current estimates say that between 40 and 50 billion watts of hydropower are potentially available here. And by developing this hydropower, Inga Falls could transform the prospects of central Africa, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, of the Republic of Congo, of Rwanda, Burundi, and other neighboring countries that have been largely bereft of modern energy sources and electrification, but could tap into a regional grid. Of course it’s a big project.
It’s a project that perhaps requires 50 or 60 billion dollars of investment. That’s not a huge sum in macroeconomic terms. Projects like that are developed all over the world. But it is a lot of money to flow to central Africa which is a region of poverty and of instability. It’s an example of a highly promising, but rather complex project which would require regional cooperation, a regional power transmission system, regional governance because it’s pretty clear that investors are not going to turn 50 or 60 billion dollars over to the DRC or to any particular government in the region.
But it’s an example of the kind of project that if we think in a creative way, with the design of creative, multinational institutions, could get developed and could make a, an absolutely decisive difference in the, for the economies and the people of the region.
It turns out that when one maps the potential for such large-scale projects throughout Africa, they now exist in many places with the specific local energy context taken into account. In this map created by my colleague, Professor Vijay Modi of Columbia University, he’s analyzed the areas of high potential hydropower, shown in the big blue circles, the biggest of which is Inga Falls.
Of wind power shown by the green circles on the map. And the regions of high solar energy. And across that oval of the Sahel, Professor Modi is indicating the extraordinary importance of solar power for that long stretch of very impoverished, semi-desert countries of west Africa. Mali, Niger, Chad are countries that have very, very low access to electricity but the one thing they have complete access to is sunshine.
And the potential now to tap the solar power of the Sahel, both at a very small scale in highly distributed microgrids or even individual solar panels for individual households and on large grid basis using concentrated solar thermal technology or massive arrays of photovoltaic fields is now at hand, given the dramatic changes of prices that have occurred for solar energy in recent decades.
Remember that the cost of a one-watt solar cell has declined from about $77 per watt back in the late 1970s to about .70-cents per watt today by a decline of a factor of 100. And this makes it possible that in a very poor region with massive solar radiation like the Sahel there could be a mass electrification just in a few years. One of the most exciting discoveries of resources in Africa in recent years has been findings of natural gas deposits off the coast of east Africa.
Normally I wouldn’t be so thrilled with another hydrocarbon find. We’ve been emphasizing that we can’t use all the hydrocarbons we have in the world.
That many of the hydrocarbons, the unconventional oil and gas and the, the preponderance of coal can never safely be used in the world, certainly not within the 2-degree Celsius budget. But when we’re talking about impoverished countries that contribute basically nothing of significance to the global scale challenge, a find of energy resources in those places that would enable impoverished economies to escape from the trap of poverty must be greeted with enthusiasm.
And I think that the world as it negotiates next year at COP21 will have to be clear that while many fossil fuel resources will have to be stranded, that should not occur and certainly not be mandated in the poorest of the poor in the world, when these resources make possible a decisive breakthrough out of extreme poverty.
Well the, the biggest of these finds has been in that green circle that one sees off of the east coast of Africa, Mozambique has been identified as a place with the, perhaps, a hundred trillion cubic feet of natural gas offshore and available for development. And this again, like the Inga Falls project or like the large-scale solar energy potential of the Sahel, will require a complex analysis and project design and implementation to make it possible to use these resources for Africa’s true long-term benefit.
Why do I say this? Because the natural thing to do when gas or oil is discovered off the coast of an impoverished country has been to develop that resource and ship it off to a major market. And indeed, the first impulse of the oil companies that have discovered these large natural gas deposits off the coast of Mozambique and Tanzania has been to say, well let’s bring it to shore in a pipeline.
We’ll liquefy it, put it on a tanker, and send it to China. And the idea has been that with these vast gas resources, that that can be another resource for China. We know the problems of that. We know the problems of emissions. But the other problem is that when energy is not used for domestic development but merely becomes an enclave economy for export to high income markets, the contribution of these energy resources to Africa’s own development are likely to be lost.
And so on second thought, some of the…these companies such as Eni, the Italian large oil and gas company has thought perhaps we ought to be thinking much harder about how those natural gas deposits can also be used fruitfully for east Africa’s own development. And with the Professor Modi having a close look at this, he’s identified ways that natural gas could play a role, fundamentally in enabling modern energy services throughout the entire eastern coast of, of Africa, running from Ethiopia and Somalia through Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and, and other countries.
Natural gas offers the potential in this region for electrification. It enables the potential for a petrochemical industry around fertilizers desperately needed by the poor, smallholder farmers of the region. Transport, instead of being dependent on import of petroleum, can run on natural gas. And of course safe cooking stoves to replace the three-stone cookstoves used throughout this region, could enable families to enjoy modern cooking services without the devastating smoke inhalation and lung disease that accompanies the, the daily cooking chores, currently.
The point is, think creatively. In this case, we worry less about the carbon dioxide emissions per se because on a global scale they’d still be very small. But the transformative potential for this region of economic development is absolutely huge. And that’s why when we’re facing the challenges of the poorest of the poor, we have to give due attention to the core of their economic development needs.
For those places in, especially in rural Africa, far from pipelines and, and grids and even potentially so, we also have highly distributed energy potential now such as depicted in one of my favorite projects of Professor Modi, the shared solar system where a village has its own power generation in a microgrid of solar panels depicted here, shown here in one of these microgrid systems. And from those solar panels there is a distribution throughout a village, connecting 20, 30, 40 households in the village and enabling those households to have electricity, to power lights, to power perhaps small refrigerators or food processing units, a sewing machine. Other small appliances.
To charge a mobile phone. To become more productive. To increase the quality of life. To share in the benefits of modern energy services even when living in remote rural areas. If we put the pieces together, tropical Africa, the region of the world that is the poorest and that suffers chronically from energy poverty has the potential for huge breakthroughs. And we see here three and we can add the fourth.
In the yellow oval across west Africa there is the vast potential for large-scale solar. In the blue circled in central Africa, there is the potential to tap into the massive hydropower of Inga Falls and other hydropower projects. And in the large pink oval, in the east of Africa there is the potential to tap into the large-scale natural gas reserves that have been discovered off the coast of east Africa.
Add to that the fourth potential for highly distributed renewable energy through solar power, wind power, geothermal and other potential and we see that we are on a threshold in which energy poverty can be brought to an end and thereby help Africa to bring overall income poverty to an end once and for all.