Renewable energy: an alternative to meeting Ghana’s energy challenges

Feature Article of Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Columnist: Mahama, Edward Kofi

In recent times, the importance of energy to economic development is as vital as the need of air to sustain life. Every single activity is more or less dependent on energy. The demand for energy in Ghana is increasing exponentially, a consequence of population growth and the advent of oil and gas with its associated industries. Over the past years, Ghana has relied on hydro and thermal power to meet its energy needs. This implies that, the possibility of power crisis in the country is inevitable once our water levels go down or supply of Gas from the West Africa Gas company is cut. Shortage of power has reoccurred so many times in our dear country’s history, however no long term measures are taken to address it.

Ghana has an installed capacity of about 1960MW, which is made up of hydro and thermal facilities. Electricity demand is currently 1400MWand is expanding between 8-10% every year. It is estimated that in order to meet this demand, we require capacity additions of 200MW.However, existing power plants are unable to run to their full generation capacity as a result of limitations in fuel supply and uncertainty in rainfall or water inflows into the hydroelectric power facilities. About 310 MW of installed power capacity is presently unavailable due to shut down of West Africa Gas Company. Considering the energy crisis we are facing as nation, it is expedient we consider generating power from other alternative sources. We should begin shifting our attention to renewable energies to meet our power demand.

Renewable energy comes from sources that are always available in the natural world and cannot be used up. Examples of renewable energies are solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric and tidal. Among these Ghana has tremendous potential to use solar and biomass energy.

Ghana is fortunate to have sunlight available throughout the year. The sun’s energy can be harnessed to supplement the energy we get from our existing power plants. Recently, Blue Energy, a UK-based renewable energy investment company announced its plan to build a 155 megawatt photovoltaic (PV) solar power plant in Western Region. Construction work on the $400m plant was expected to start within 12 months from the time it was announced but the period has passed yet nothing has been done and is I strongly believe it is due to lack of funds. Looking at the benefit that Ghana will gain from this project, I think it would be expedient for government to help source funds to start the project.

The challenges however associated with solar energy production are with storage and improving efficiency of solar panels. Already the European Union is funding researches to address this issue, I think our government should follow suit and provide funds for our local Universities to research on these challenges as well.

Biomass energy is another area that needs consideration to help address our power crisis. Biomass energy comes from materials that were once living like plants or some garbage.?The biomass energy industry performs two distinct and important functions: energy production and waste disposal. Each has significant environmental implications. Energy production from biomass displaces the production of a like amount of energy from conventional sources. At the same time, the use of biomass fuels in energy facilities avoids the alternative disposal of these materials. It is rather sad to know that we can produce enormous amount of energy from the waste produce in Accra alone, yet we sit idle and allow the waste to engulf us.

Producing electricity from biomass is inherently more expensive that producing electricity from conventional fossil fuels and hydropower. One reason for their high cost is that, biomass fuels are bulky and expensive to collect and transport. In addition, biomass generating facilities are smaller than power plant that runs on fossil fuel which prevents from achieving the economies of scale of a typical fossil generating plant. Biomass facilities are smaller due to the dispersed nature of their fuel supply, which limits the amount of material that can be economically concentrated in a single place. The largest biomass plant in the world generates 75MW of power whereas fossil fired plant has generating capacities in excess of 1000MW.

However, biomass electricity generation provides a range of supplementary environmental and social services, the value of which is worth more than that of electricity produced from fossil fuels. Generating power from biomass will reduce environmental pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and landfill use associated with their disposal, prompting healthier environment and contributing to rural economies.

Although the above mentioned energy sources have their own challenges, their advantage far outweigh fossil fuels that we depend so much on. Aside from being perpetual they are also environmentally friendly. The sun will forever shine and waste will continually be produce as long as humans exist. Thus, there is the need to take advantage of these and make maximum use of it .

Article by Edward Kofi Mahama,
Reviewed by Kwame Simpeh Junior and John Wondoh
Email:[email protected]

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