Monday, December 14, 2015

Global Warming Worsens Power Crisis in Africa

Africa is home to nearly a billion people – over a sixth of the world’s population – but the region only generates four per cent of the world’s electricity. Of that, three-quarters is utilized by South Africa, Egypt and a handful of other North African nations, with only 30% of the population of the continent with access to power.

Though most of the continent have constantly been facing challenges related to electricity, it is the hydropower-dependent countries that are presently being extremely burdened by power shortages. Spurred by erratic rainfall patterns and an increased frequency of droughts, these hydropower-dependent countries have seen an exceptional, drastic fall in the water level in major dams, forcing their governments to introduce a load shedding schedule that involves up to 18 hours of power interruption. The reduced level of water in the dams have provoked relevant authorities to advise power utilities to reduce generating capacity.

“The unprecedented energy crisis,” said one of the leaders of the countries, echoing the opinion of the other leaders of hydropower-dependent nations, “has already cost our countries dearly in terms of productivity, jobs and revenue.” He said that the power crisis had exacerbated the challenges that developing countries were still grappling with, including poverty, high unemployment, limited access to education, slow industrial development, inadequate infrastructure, poor quality health services and low industrial productivity. “The current energy crisis we are facing has a clear strong connection to global warming,” he said, “and as such, new strategies to alleviate the situation has to be proposed to address the effects of climate change.”

Diversifying energy sources
The leader said that a sound strategy to combat the current power crisis was to diversify energy sources to reduce dependency on hydroelectric stations. “Our country”, he said, “is blessed with abundant sunshine, which can be harnessed to increase energy supply to consumers. Adopting solar energy technologies, and to some extent wind, could reduce the pressure of demand for electricity on the national grid and over-dependence on hydro and thermal power.”

The aggressive drive of Africa’s hydropower-dependent countries towards diversifying their energy sources is laudable, especially because it does not only seek to resolve the power supply challenge, but also combat global warming and climate change. Moving away from the traditional sources of energy, like hydro and fossil fuels, and venturing into renewables, like solar or wind power, will not only encourage an increase in power generating capacity, but also a more sustainable use of conventional primary energy sources.

Shifting to renewable energy sources
A reservation, however, is that transitioning from conventional power sources, like hydro and fossil fuel, to alternative sources, like solar and wind, may not be immediately possible, as it may require the buy-in of several entities, including several branches of government, financial institutions, investors and industry stakeholders. With the procedures involved in obtaining approvals for such an initiative, the process of fully shifting to alternative sources of power may take years, or even decades, to complete.

Another concern is the observed insufficient reliability and predictability of renewable sources of power, like solar and wind. Industry experts claim that, though holding tremendous potential, solar and wind power still have room for improvement and optimization before they can assume the role of absolute primary sources of energy.

Urgent power supply support
The hydropower-dependent countries suffering from power shortage urgently need a reliable alternative source of energy now – not in a few years, not in a decade. In times of drought and low-rain seasons, load shedding and regular electricity outage, governments, utilities and large industrial operations in hydropower-dependent countries will find an immediate effective power solution in hiring the services of temporary electricity providers. Reliable electricity is essential in powering a country’s economic and social development, and renting large-scale power plants while the process of effectively integrating renewable energy sources into the energy mix is underway can guarantee a constant supply of power even to expansive regions, provinces and cities without the need to spend scarce CAPEX. Rented power plants offer economy and flexibility, because governments, utilities and allied stakeholders can pay for the electricity produced by hired power plants as the generators run, and they can choose to add power modules to the rental power plants as their requirements increase.

Rental power plants are not only reliable and fuel efficient, they also have less impact to the environment, supporting the government’s drive to combat climate change. Modern rental generators boast of cleaner operations, being able to run on a variety of fuels, including natural gas or a blend of gas and diesel. Studies conducted in different rental power plants sites around the world show that temporary power stations, like those running on natural gas, can surpass the worldwide NOx emission requirements, emitting only 250 mg/Nm3 even without after treatment.

Final Word
The prolonged low-rain season and drought in hydropower-dependent countries, which resulted in alarming low water level in major dams, are indubitably related to global warming and climate change. The stand of hydropower-dependent countries to diversify energy sources and reduce their dependence on conventional sources of power has its merits, especially when coupled with initiatives geared towards energy conservation and efficient use of electricity. While the process of shifting to renewable energy sources is moving forward, governments, utilities and allied stakeholders can find an immediate solution to their countries' power woes in hiring rental power providers. Ultimately, however, the solution to the power supply challenges and climate change will depend on the principled actions of the countries’ leadership and people.


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