Experts have said innovation, especially amongst youths was key to addressing existing energy challenges in Africa.
Speaking at a virtual programme organised by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Chairperson, and tagged ‘Energy – Development Nexus: Towards a People-Centred Approach,’ Musonda Mumba, director UNDP Rome, noted that Africa, with a growing youthful population, must encourage young people to innovate solutions to existing energy challenges, especially through an enabling environment.
“Energy issue in Africa, particularly around cooking is a matter of life and death,” she noted, adding that “the interconnectivity of the development with other sectors and other critical challenges, especially deforestation and pollution underpinned the need to prioritise initiatives for lasting solutions.”
Stating that the development if not sustainably tackled, may continue to worsen biodiversity loss and create health burden, Mumba said the Covid-19 pandemic should force Africa to rethink how energy is delivered.
Mumba said over 759 million people are still without access to electricity, globally as 2.6 billion people have remained without access to clean cooking solutions.
Canvassing for innovative ways to address energy poverty, Mumba said in 2018, financial flows to developing countries to support clean energy amounted to $14 billion, adding that despite the pandemic, “We’ve seen the investments in renewable capacity increased by 2 per cent to $303 billion in 2020.”
Noting that the health sector, agriculture and other sectors of the economy may remain a mirage without access to energy, Mumba said policymakers, especially politicians must create leeway that would sustainably address energy concerns.
She added that there was the need for a policy shift that would encourage young people, who are innovating to build technologies without facing the barrier taxation, absence of financial resources and others.
“Africa is a young continent. The average age on the African continent is 19 years old it’s a no brainer. Can we start rethinking how universities are designing training around energy that is very fit for purpose and relevant to the spaces? We need to look at how universities are looking at sensitization to young people and also providing platforms to share knowledge,” Mumba said.
Ifeanyi Arajaka, chief executive officer of Green Village Electricity Project, noted that sustainable energy remained sacrosanct to the economic and educational development of Nigeria and other African countries.
He noted that empowering local communities is also remained critical beyond the provision of electricity, adding that the company has continued to use over 90 per cent of locals in achieving its projects.
Arajaka added that by addressing rural electrification, communities are being impacted to contribute meaningfully to the economy while leading to improvement in food security.
Given the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said digital operations would enable companies like his to adapt and empower more people across communities.
Also speaking at the event which was hosted by Emanuela Colombo, UNESCO Chair, Energy for Sustainable Development, Politecnico di Milano, Colombo noted that there was the need for Africans to design or get involved in designing a tailored solution to the energy challenges on the continent.
She equally added that while the inter-sectorial approach to the issue is necessary, building a much better system should be a priority.
Colombo also stressed the need for capacity development, not only for the sake of delivering training hours for the people but for the sake of building the next generation Africans.
Colombo also noted the need for the right policy, stressing that the market may not change by itself except with the involvement of key policymakers, adding that, “we still need the government intervention and government action, which need to be done in a more holistic manner looking at all the cross-sectoral linkages.”
Consultant and Faculty Member, Centre for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law, University of Ibadan, Temilade Sesan, who stressed on the need to factor gender-based realities in designing energy solutions noted that strengthening the physical linkages between rural and urban communities remained critical to addressing energy issues.
Speaking on the need for sectoral linkages in designing energy solutions, Sesan said energy is connected to many development sectors, adding that promoting energy within a broader development, especially in terms of employment, health, education, agriculture, food security and others is necessary.
She equally stressed the need for financial schemes for energy access, especially low-interest loans that would enable people to acquire solar home systems.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Starthmore University, Nairobi, Izael Da Silva, who also spoke at the event, said that the continent must not continue to look out for others to solve existing problems, stressing “We must be able to solve our own problem.”