Renewable Energy Versus Nuclear Energy: Which Way Should Ghana Go?

Renewable Energy Versus Nuclear Energy: Which Way Should Ghana Go?

Author: John-Baptist Naah

When the Minister of Energy and Petroleum (Hon. Mr. Emmanuel Armah-Kofi Buah) made a pronouncement on government’s plans to, sooner or later, commence development and promotion of Nuclear Energy (NE) as an alternative source of energy supply, it was not surprising to me that an energy consultant at the African Energies Consortium, Kwame Jantua was “urging caution”.

I deem it vitally important to join in this scholarly debate on the subject matter. There is no doubt that Ghana, as a middle income country in the Sub-region, needs to effectively deal with her energy poverty situation to ensure accelerated economic growth and technological advancement. Before delving into whether Ghana should go Renewable or Nuclear, let me laconically espouse the obvious pros and cons of these two energy sources. The pros for NE generation include no emission of CO2 and environmentally friendly, cheaper in the long term and longer lifespan. The cons of this energy source are serious health and environmental implications, difficulty in managing radioactive waste, very expensive initial cost and possibility of nuclear weapons proliferation.

However, when it comes to Renewable Energy (RE) on the other hand, the cons are fewer than the pros. Among the cons of RE include relatively exorbitant initial cost and reliability concerns (weather dependent). The pros of RE are several and some of them include:

• Readily distributable and deployable to inaccessible rural communities or localities where conventional grid connected systems fail

• Research and Development (R&D) in RE technologies particularly solar cell cost figures are dwindling by about 40% yearly

• Very scalable in capacity (from smaller wattage to bigger wattage, particularly solar)

• Naturally abundant RE resources everywhere in Ghana (solar, wind, biomass, etc)

• Cleanest energy source and very environmentally friendly due to zero C02 emission

• Payback time brings in financial cushioning to beneficiary

• Promising energy source for future generations

• Widest acceptance and adoption as better alternative modern energy source and the list goes on and on.

Some begging questions to ask at this moment are: Is NE generation a novel energy option for Ghana to opt for now? Will NE take Ghana out of her increasingly high energy demands completely? Does it worth it to cough out millions of dollars only to invest in a questionable, dangerous and sensitive energy source in about nine more years to come? Has government of Ghana forgotten so soon what happened to Japan through devastation of nuclear plants in Fukushima? I am personally of the view that, going Nuclear is NOT at all a good way for Ghana to go now and in the future in terms of addressing her pressing energy needs.

A good example in case is, Germany has already started the bureaucratic and legal processes to walk out of NE by closing all NE plants by the year 2022. Interestingly, while Germany is preparing to denuclearize, by 2022, Ghana is rather aiming at nuclearizing by 2022. An interesting contradiction indeed! The underlying reasons of NE walk by Germany is partly purely environmental and health concerns. Yes, it is true that Germany cannot be compared to Ghana in terms of energy situations. What we can compare here is the energy option (NE) in question. The idea of NE promotion and establishment should be substituted with RE for the sake of future generations to come and leave them a legacy of cleanest, safest and most promising energy source.

I am aware of some decisive and recommendable move taken by government of Ghana to pass the RE bill into Law quite recently to effectively allow Independent Power producers (IPPs) to produce and sell to Government (in this case Volta River Authority) through a feed-in tariff regime and creation of RE fund. This move alone is not sufficient enough! Even though I cannot claim to be an expert in RE management, I will like to kindly suggest the following few points to government, as a concerned Ghanaian, for consideration.

• For RE sector to really see revival and become attractive and affordable for Ghanaian energy consumers, it will require conscious efforts to be taken by government of Ghana through massive investment in this sector without relying on IPPs to lead the way. If subsidies are put in the conventional fossil fuels, why not RE too? NE money could be channeled into infrastructural development and R&D of RE technologies in Ghana.

• Waste-to-energy program should be timeously implemented as outlined in the national energy policy since so much solid and liquid wastes are produced daily in urban centers.

• Government should generally and heavily invest in the already existing generation, distribution and transmission infrastructure so as to reduce avoidable system losses of about 25% to barest minimum instead of investing in NE.

• RE technologies (solar, wind, biomass, mini-hydro, etc) are for the future and Ghana should take advantage of her rich RE resources and develop the RE sector.

The issue of climate change is predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to continue to worsen in the years to come. This is partly as a result of incessant quest of developing countries to sacrifice the environment for development projects coupled with developed countries consuming more fossil resources to sustain their dominance in the world stage. We must make the most of what we have comparative advantage including abundant RE resources in the country.

John-Baptist Naah
[email protected]
PhD candidate, University of Cologne, Germany