Harnessing Renewable Energy for Sustainable Development

24 April 2018

Energy is the lifeblood of modern economies and societies. As such, the management and development of energy resources constitute an absolute priority from a sustainable development perspective. This is reflected both in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7, which commits UN member states to ensuring “access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” and in the broader recognition that energy will be key in achieving almost all of the SDGs. In particular, improving energy access will be critical to progress towards agreed global targets in the areas of poverty reduction, industrialisation, economic growth, health, and education, among others. Importantly, efforts to increase energy access must also factor in climate change as encompassed in SDG 13 on climate action as well as the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Carbon-intensive economic development is no longer an option, meaning that clean and renewable sources must be put at the centre of energy policy.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the energy challenge is particularly acute. According to the International Energy Agency, today around 78 percent of the region’s inhabitants rely on solid biomass for cooking – which often comes with significant health risks – while 57 percent do not have access to electricity. Most of these people are concentrated in rural areas that conventional grids often fail to reach. Although encouraging progress in electrification has been achieved in recent years on the continent, there is still a long way to go. To tackle energy poverty and build modern, sustainable, and inclusive energy systems with a view to transforming African economies and improving livelihoods, determined and ambitious policy efforts will be required.

Fortunately, Africa is endowed with considerable energy potential. Along with significant fossil fuel reserves, it has abundant biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind resources, which can power homes, businesses, schools, and dispensaries across the continent. Against this background, what are the key considerations and priorities that African countries, in particular least developed countries (LDCs), should keep in mind as they develop renewables? How can they best take advantage of available funding options to finance renewable energy projects? What are some of the broader considerations related to the energy transition? This issue aims at shedding light on these questions.

In the lead article, Giovanni Valensisi focuses on LDCs and offers insights to help inform strategies for the deployment of renewable energy. David Chama Kaluba, for his part, reflects on how African countries can better access available funding options for renewables. The third piece, written by Moustapha Kemal Gueye, examines the employment implications of Africa’s energy transition. This issue further features an article focusing on the rationale and opportunities for fossil fuel subsidy reform on the continent. The final two articles look at the experience of Solar Sister – a not-for-profit social enterprise – in supporting small-scale women entrepreneurs in the renewable energy sector, and the role of mini-grids in responding to the continent’s energy needs.

As usual, we welcome your substantive feedback and contributions. Write to us at bridgesafrica@ictsd.ch.

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24 April 2018
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