Abu Dhabi hosts Africa meeting on renewable energy

July 8, 2011 - 7:44 AM

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — African governments should consider investing in renewable energies like wind, solar and hydro power to help feed the continent's growing energy demands and combat threats of climate change, the head of a new international energy agency said Friday.

Adnan Amin also told nearly 30 African energy and foreign affairs ministers at the start of a two-day meeting that the key to ramping up renewable energy deployment was for countries to develop regulatory framework needed to convince institutional investors it's safe to put their money into these cutting edge technologies.

"If Africa continues to grow at pace it is growing and intensifies that growth and uses only carbon-emitting forms of energy, it will exponentially change the picture on climate change and make it much worse," said Amin, a Kenyan who is director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency.

"We need right now to start making the kinds of investment that will lead Africa on a very different path," he said.

There is a global push to reduce dependence on traditional forms of energy like oil and coal as part of efforts to combat global warming and keep temperatures from rising more than 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit (2 Celsius) above preindustrial-era levels, which could trigger catastrophic climate impacts.

Until now, African has largely been left on the sidelines of discussions about climate change, mostly because its poor nations only use 5 percent of the world's energy.

But that thinking is beginning to change, as Africa's economy picks up steam and demands intensify to provide electricity to the more than half a billion mostly rural residents who live without it. There is also a push in Africa to find cleaner sources of energy, since almost half now come from burning wood and charcoal.

Rajendar Pachauri, who chairs the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told the meeting in Abu Dhabi that he sees great potential for renewable energy in Africa, especially hydro, solar and wind.

He said renewables will be cheaper than traditional sources and that Africa has an abundance of land that could be used to solar and wind farms.

"The potential is enormous," he said on the sidelines of the meeting. "Given the fact we have over 500 million people without access to electricity, that is huge niche market that could be tapped in an economically viable way. If you would provide this section of society with electricity from the grid, it would turn out to be far more expensive."

Ministers and officials from the African Union and African development agencies all talked up the potential for renewables, with many saying the best hopes lie with hydro power in countries with large rivers, geothermal in Kenya's Rift Valley and solar almost everywhere on the continent.

Sugarcane producing countries could also burn the refuge to produce energy in a process known as biogas.

"We have sun in abundance and that is an area we can tap," Gambia's Foreign Minister Mamadou Tangara said. "The initial investment is very high but in terms of sustainability and the long term impact, renewable energy is the way forward for Africa."