Prof. Sir Brian Heap of Smart Villages Initiatives
By Abdallah el-Kurebe
* “Energy is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity and an environment that allows the planet thrive.” Ban Ki-moon
* An estimated 1.3 billion people remain without access to electricity and 2.7 billion are still cooking on harmful and inefficient stoves. Many live in remote rural village communities and until they have access to energy services, little progress can be made to develop and improve their lives. – Poor Peoples Energy Outlook 2014
* In West Africa, almost 165 million people did not have access to electricity and more 80% of those without electricity access were based in rural areas in 2012. Relatedly, more than 265 million people across the region are dependent on solid fuels (usually biomass based, to meet their cooking and heating needs. – World Bank
In the rural villages and most urban towns of the 18 countries in West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, the island of Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, the island of Saint Helena, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe andTogo), electricity access is a challenge. Electricity generation, distribution and transmission do not meet the energy needs of the sub-Regional population.
Because of the challenges of energy supply, 14 ECOWAS members formed the West African Power Pool (WAPP) as a specialised institution to ensure Regional Power System integration and realization of a Regional Electricity Market. This is in spite of the fact that individual nation states have not achieved such realisation.
And although WAPP was established to ensure “stable and reliable electricity supply at affordable costs,” this has not been visible, especially in the bigger economy, Nigeria.
In Nigeria, there is presently a nationwide power crisis where at a point, there was total system collapse at which level the nation got to Ground Zero, with all the Distribution Companies (DISCOS) receiving zero megawatts allocation from the system operator.
Over reliance by the sub-regional governments on hydropower plants for electricity supply has relagated the region in terms of socioeconomic development. Because of the capital intensive nature of the hydropower plants, coupled with dwindling economies of countries, governments have failed to fully provide energy for their people by relying on that.
This challenge calls for the need to involve alternative energy sources to be able to provide energy access for the teeming population in the rural communities of West Africa.
Smart Villages is a non profit outfit that “aims to provide policy-makers, donors, and development agencies concerned with rural energy access, with new insights on the real barriers to energy access in villages of developing countries – technological, financial and political – and how they can be overcome.”
So far, apart from several other workshops, SVI has held East Africa, Southeast Asia Regional workshops and has slated May 23rd to 25th 2016 for the West African version of the Regional workshop to be held in Accra, Ghana. The workshop, like others already organised by Smart Villages, focuses on improved energy access for rural communities in West Africa
“Governments across the developing world have identified ensuring universal access to electricity as a major policy goal. Despite this focus on increasing electricity access, more than one billion people globally do not have access to electricity. A large majority, (80% by IEA estimates) of those without access to electricity and modern energy services are based in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa and developing countries in Asia,” Dr. Tayyab Safdar, a post-doctoral researcher with Smart Villages Initiatives stated.
According to him, in West Africa, the World Bank estimates that in 2012 almost 165 million people did not have access to electricity and more than 80% of those without electricity access were based in rural areas.
Overtime, Smart Villages has organised regional workshops for East Africa in Arusha, Tanzania in 2014; for Southeast Asia in Kota Samarahan, Malaysia apart from several other media and Smart Villages workshops.
The Smart Villages West Africa Regional workshop, which holds in Accra Ghana between May 23rd and 25th 2016 aims to address salient main questions directly affecting the sub-region.
“What are the major barriers to improving energy access for remote rural communities in West Africa? How can public, private and multilateral investment and actions complement each other to support energy access projects aimed at off-grid rural communities? How can local community participation improve sustainability of off-grid energy programmes? How can improved energy access increase opportunities for gainful employment, improved productivity and new businesses in remote rural communities?” Safdar stated.
Accirding to him, the workshop would involve 50 to 60 participants from across the region. “It is envisaged that the workshop will be of special interest to relevant stakeholders such as: academics and researchers, rural service providers including entrepreneurs and agencies, NGOs, donors (multilateral and bilateral), community representatives, regulators and policy makers,” he disclosed.
The organisers of the workshop would draw on the insights and debate generated during the workshop to inform the drafting of a detailed report, which would be “distributed to stakeholders through the network of the Smart Villages Initiative (SVI) in developing countries as well as at multilateral forums including the European Union and the United Nations. It will also feed into the final report on the regional engagement of the SVI in West Africa.”
This is a “must-support-workshop” for West African governments. It will avail them the opportunity to explore the potential benefits of renewable energy for rural villages,” Yusuf Ganda, a Solar panel engineer with Usman Danfodiyo University, Sokoto said.