Summer school: Strategies for Sustainable Energy Development in Africa

The king has finally accepted ANSOLE’s proposal : a play to close a summer school

The first « summer school » dedicated by the ANSOLE network to sustainable energy development talked about solutions, strategy, and training.

The king has finally accepted ANSOLE’s proposal. But this was not before his own daughter was raped and murdered in an unlit street. Neither the death of a child caused by the toxic fumes of a kerosene lamp, nor the passing of a newborn baby whose mother had received improperly stored vaccines during her pregnancy, got him to call the representative of the non governmental organization back. Despite the pain felt by those left behind, he would not commit the sin of sacrilege by green-lighting the use of the sun’s energy, God’s energy, to electrify his village.

The curtain falls. Thank goodness! This was only a play, which received a standing ovation from the audience of renewable energy engineers gathered to watch it.

Some science before the play

We are in sun-drenched Ouagadougou, the capital city of French-speaking Burkina Faso. Colloquially called Ouaga, the largest city of this landlocked West African country lies geographically in the Sahel zone. From 25 February to 4 March 2017, it hosted the Pan-African film and television festival (Fespaco), Africa's leading cultural event.

Despite its artistic merit, our opening tragedy was not selected for the festival's 26th anniversary. Rather, it was performed at the closing ceremony of the first summer school (School 1) organized by the African Network for Solar Energy (ANSOLE) and its partners including the Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany, the Johannes Kepler University Linz, Austria, and 2ie - Institut International d'Ingénierie de l'Eau et de l'Environnement, Ouagadougou, on the theme of Sustainable Energetics for Africa (SE4A). Planned for participants from West Africa and Germany, it was held at 2ie from 27 February to 3 March 2017.

A ministerial introduction

« Sustainable energetics or the use of sustainable energy for Africa is a necessity and is important for us. » With these words, Professor Alfa Oumar Dissa, Minister of Energy, Mines and Quarries of Burkina Faso set the tone of SE4A whose aim was threefold: « build capacities, share experiences and strengthen networks. » This aim was achieved through the discussions which took place during the various stages of the event and which centered on strategies for sustainable energy development in Africa and beyond.

Clarifying the concepts

The lecture session was the first stage and started with the clarification of key concepts. While energetics was defined as the scientific study of energy flows under transformation, being sustainable was described as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

The « sustainable » aspect of the energy produced is important because it takes into account the socio-economical issues (affordable and suitable energy to population needs) and the environmental issues (energy production should not create significant negative environmental impacts). This explains why sustainability gained a lot more attention in the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 ASD) than it had in the Millennium Development Goals.

Various solutions for various countries

Across the world, strategies are established for sustainable energetics. Indeed, countries resort to sustainable energy solutions including biomass, solar power and hydropower.

Here are some concrete examples. In Africa, in addition to its traditional use for cooking and heating in the residential sector, biomass is used in industries that consume large amounts of heat (either hot water or steam) and have large volumes of biomass residue at their disposal, such as the paper and pulp industry and the wood-processing sector.

In Cameroon, the design and installation of reproducible prototype domestic, community, health center and boarding school solar systems, within the framework of a partnership between the University of Buea and thirty-one local authorities, is sure to accelerate rural electrification.

In West Africa, hydropower is the most well established and widely used renewable energy technology. In most member states, it represents the only renewable energy technology currently being implemented on a commercial scale.

A role for the building sector

In the efforts towards a reduction of the global energy demand and carbon dioxide emissions, the building sector too has an active role to play as energy consumption in this sector is steadily increasing with the world population.

In all tropical regions, including in sub-Saharan Africa, passive air conditioning building designs are employed to cool internal air by way of inducing air circulation inside houses through the use of local winds, the thermosiphon process, solar chimneys, the Venturi effect, evaporative coolers, patio cooling, building compactness, building directions, Canadian wells, masks and sunscreens.

In Europe, building-integrated photovoltaics modules are replacing conventional building materials in parts of the building envelopes to reduce buildings’ environmental impact.

Lecturing at SE4A School 1


Sun for desalination

In arid regions like the Gulf, electricity from solar photovoltaics has become increasingly attractive to power desalination systems. More than half of growth in the desalination market is in the MENA region.

Among the strategies in place to support climate change mitigation, improving energy efficiency feature prominently as it leads to a broader access to it for all users. In West Africa, the Supporting Energy Efficiency Access in West Africa (Seea-WA) initiative is contributing to access to efficient, sustainable and modern cooking fuels and devices for the entire Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) population.

Training new engineers

To push forward with the above-mentioned efforts, a new generation of engineers is needed combining thorough applied and practical interdisciplinary skills in science, engineering, economics and social sciences, alongside complementary skills such as project management and quality control. These skills are better gained through a problem-based learning approach where students create solutions to complex and real problems.

For example students may be asked to find the appropriate organic photovoltaics small-scale application to electrify a village, based upon their preexisting knowledge and the information they gathered or were provided with. Such an approach should be innovation-driven to bring about a transition to an all-circular sustainable plastics economy where the material will be realigned to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), moving from being (perceived as) a problem to becoming part of the solution!

Energy project planning methodologies

Coming back to renewable energy higher education programmes, especially in Africa, they should be complemented by e-Learning for students to be provided with modern teaching methods and up-to-date knowledge in order to help them successfully enter the job market as renewable energy entrepreneurs or policy makers. In order to orient policies and strategies, the latter will need to consider three crucial energy project planning methodologies that influence their long term sustainability and success, notably the Performance and Impact Assessment Model, Project Cycle Management and Comprehensive Energy Solution Planning.

The SDGs cannot yet be labelled as sustainable solutions to global problems. The challenge now lies in implementing these goals. And this is eventually a question of transnational political will. As the industrialized world is now addressed in the 2030 ASD, let‘s hope that cosmopolitanism will further the discursive and practical treatment of global environmental risks.

Manuela Attouh


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