Low-carbon energy key to Africa

Emily Beament
AAP

Low-carbon energy is the quickest and cheapest way of providing electricity to the 70 per cent of people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to power, analysis suggests.

UK businesses could make the most of a STG12 billion annual investment opportunity to provide the energy revolution Africa needs, according to think-tank Green Alliance.

Large-scale renewables projects are boosting jobs and energy, with solar schemes bringing 4,000 jobs to Ghana, a doubling of Kenya's geothermal capacity by 2030 and an increase of eight per cent in Ethiopia's wind power capacity.

The study by Green Alliance also found that supplying power to homes, schools and hospitals from low-carbon sources, including off-grid technology, is the quickest and cheapest way of getting electricity to people without access to energy in sub-Saharan Africa.

The report estimates that half of the region's new capacity will have to be decentralised if it is to meet the UN's goal of universal energy access by 2030, and that renewable technology is cheaper and more environmentally friendly than diesel generators.

The operating costs of powering a school or a clinic with energy from solar power or wind, backed up by batteries, is less than half the cost of diesel generators, according to the report, which is backed by Christian Aid, Greenpeace, the RSPB and WWF.

Electricity is key to bringing health, economic and social benefits to sub-Saharan Africa, where currently 50 per cent of vaccines are ruined by a lack of refrigeration, and two-thirds of primary schools have no electricity.

Low-carbon technologies are already having a benefit, the analysis said, as off-grid solar electricity has given 2.5 million Kenyans access to energy, and solar radios used by birth assistants in Uganda have helped cut maternal deaths by half.

The Green Alliance study also said households could save 12.6 per cent of their income and improve their health by switching from kerosene lamps to solar lights, and that children studied for an hour longer on average when they had solar lights.

Some 24.3 billion is required annually to expand sub-Saharan Africa's power sector, and while STG12.3 billion funding has been secured, another STG12 billion investment is needed.

The analysis was published ahead of a speech by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, in which he will set out Labour's commitment to low-carbon trade.

He said: "The green economy presents huge opportunities for dynamic and innovative British businesses to export overseas and increase energy access in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa through renewable technology".

"We are clear that Britain must be a world leader in the low-carbon economy. This is key to growing the high-skilled, better paid jobs we need as well as powering development across the globe that benefits all."

Laura Taylor, head of advocacy at Christian Aid, said: "The lack of access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa is a scandal which is trapping people in poverty".