Brazilian Example could Help Africa unlock its Renewable Energy Potential
Cutting the price of energy is one way to fight poverty, the delegates at the climate change conference, or COP 17, heard in Durban.
Around 1.5 billion people around the world do not have electricity because they are not connected to a power grid. That means those people have no choice to resort to far costlier fuels, which can also be more dangerous.
That was the central message a Brazilian delegate gave to COP 17, along with concrete examples from his country which by example could benefit the millions of Africans who face daily life without reliable, cheap power.
Carlos Cavalcanti of the Federation of Industries of the state of São Paulo, spoke at the Energy in Africa discussion, adding that the new energy sources were renewable, such as hydro power. Almost half of Brazil’s energy now comes from renewable sources, he added.
“Cooking with fossil fuel is risky and expensive to poor consumers, using up to a third of their income,” he said. “Energy access is the first step to eliminating poverty.”
Cavalcanti pointed to the success of Brazil, which had undertaken a policy of getting electricity to 10 million people between 1999 and 2009.
The policy was successful and reduced extreme poverty by 66 percent. The campaign had other successes. It increased adult education by 30 percent, boosted employment by 25 percent and directly or indirectly created 300,000 jobs.
“Brazil supplies 48 percent of its vehicle-fuel needs from bio-fuel,” he said. “The world average is two percent. Ethanol from sugar cane has been proved to reduce greenhouse gases”
He went on to say that “Brazil generates 85 percent of its power from hydro generation – the world average is 16 percent. 46 percent of Brazil’s energy comes from renewable sources: triple the world average. Hydro power is the cheapest way to generate electricity in the world. The Brazilian model has created competition with the sector and produced cost-effective energy without government subsidy. “
“Africa can replicate this success,” he went on. “The total potential from hydro, wind and geothermal power is over 345 GW, almost three times the current generation capacity. Co-generation from sugar cane would have an enormous impact, especially in rural areas – it could supply 40 percent of Swaziland’s needs. “
“Policy makers must face some realities,” he continued, “there must be power integration between countries, and this is the fundamental first step. Africa needs power, Africa needs electric power, therefore Africa must focus on developing these power projects. “
A question from the floor asked if there was not a danger that bio-fuels could displace food security. Kurt Lonsway of the African Development Bank replied that the bank looked very carefully at bio-fuels.
“We agree that bio-fuels cannot be developed at the expense of food security,” he said. “Instead, we are looking at leverage to increase food security. We look at land that is under-utilised. We try to increase food security on existing land.”
Lonsway went to say, “In Sierra Leone, for instance, where youth have migrated to cities to look for work, we created a company to grow bio-fuels to create employment and to develop land as well for food production. The company had to stay involved with the community to train farmers, and increase agricultural skills. By investing in sustainable projects we can promote both.”
One delegate suggested that fossil fuels were a lot cheaper than renewable energies,
Cavalcanti replied that oil would not always be cheap: “Brazil is also an oil producer. But in Brazil we also use thermal generation with gas, coal, wind power and co-generation. Our cheapest source of energy is hydro power. We produce ethanol from sugar cane, and even without a subsidy, it is 60 percent cheaper than the price of gasoline.”