What this space: Africa is fast becoming an important player in cleaner energy sources. If only 0.3% of sunlight falling on the Sahara and Middle Eastern deserts can potentially provide all of Europe’s energy needs because of its intensity, according to a report, how about everything else?
How much wind blows from Nouakchott to Natal, and how much of this is ever utilized as an alternative energy source? How much water flowing in the Zambezi is used to power villages in Zambia and Zimbabwe; and how much more of the great Nile waters that flow into the Mediterranean can sustainably be harnessed to run corn mills in Nakuru and cotton ginneries in Jinja and Khartoum or fisheries in Cairo?
And now some bold African should emulate John McCain. He may be better known for his tenacity inside the muddle of US politics than for his expertise on the quest for cleaner energy sources. But many surely gaped at the figures he offered for a battery to power America’s engines in the wake of the oil price burst recently.
McCain’s proposal of a federally funded $300 million prize for a car battery innovation that is 30% cheaper than current technology and that would help Americans (all 300 million of them, and that translates to another $1 for each!) decrease their reliance on oil should make Africa ponder for better, cheaper energy for herself, not just to drive cars alone but to catapult Africa’s social and economic revolutions.
Perhaps the African Union should come in, and this could be the first important test for a Africa-wide government as championed by Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade - let Africa define her own race towards a more sustainable continent less dependent on oil. How much does Africa spend on oil annually?
Bio-fuels are nice sounding but are a clever diversion from Africa’s pursuit of all abundant power of the sun. Ester Nyiru, a respected African economist, argues that it is now essential to make the most of alternative energy sources, such as solar, tidal and wind power. “African countries are not using alternative power supplies since international combines do not encourage the switch; indeed, the use of such technologies may damage their business.”
No less authority than the UN Environment Programme recently advised African countries to plan an energy future around alternative sources. The relevance of such options against the backdrop of rising oil prices grows by the day hence the need to fast track an alternative energy revolution for Africa.
If Africa’s 800 million population was any consideration to peg a figure on how much the continent should invest, then, perhaps, a $800m prize for the most viable innovation to power each of Africa’s villages should keep her ahead of McCain’s American dream. And Africa has the advantage of the abundance of the sun.
Just consider this: if only 0.3% of the African sun can power all of Europe, what then can she do with with the 99.7% “surplus”? Imagine what the fisherman on the shores of Lake Victoria could do with the sun to protect his catch and deliver it unspoilt to the market in Europe. Or what a mango farmer in Xai Xai, Mozambique could do with the sun to preserve his fruit and ensure its delivery as a value added product to a Walmart store in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Or what a sculptor in KwaZulu could do with wind energy to produce a green gadget that will be an art lover’s prized possession in Winnipeg!
It can be possible. Every single village in Africa can have cheaper, cleaner, sustainable energy and we can re-write every book that proclaims the end of poverty. Forget oil, alternative energy is the way to go for Africa.