The persistent energy gap in most parts of Africa has been and is still an issue of concern regionally, continentally and internationally. Energy choices are more or less limited to hydrocarbon or fossil-based sources and availability is stratified along purchasing power levels. The rising number of extremely poor people has endeared themselves to biomass as an energy source due to culture, affordability, and accessibility, among several other reasons. Since the consumption of biomass, if not over-exploited, has little or no effect on climate change, intervention strategies focused on this energy source and its beneficiaries will go a long way in eradicating energy poverty. Urban and semi-urban areas with high purchasing and consumption power however get served first with cleaner energy technologies and options. The inadequate/non-existent modern energy sources among the poor rural areas cut across all forms of energy: Electricity; agro-industrial/automotive fuel; cooking/heating fuel.
Improving access to electricity is capital intensive and the operation and extension of national grids have become cumbersome and non-profitable due to the low consumption and low purchasing power of rural dwellers. Intervention strategies have involved decentralized electricity generation, fossil fuel-based generators and solar-powered electrification. These, however, have remained marginal and largely unorganized. The development of local clean and renewable energy sources could be the way forward for poor rural, semi-urban and urban dwellers. This therefore means that intervention strategies and models for sustainability must be tailored to the resources and needs of individual countries and along cultural and subcultural lines.
To meet the demand for cooking and heating fuel, wood and biomass ranks first among the energy choices of the poor especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
While the rich strive to keep up with the increasing prices of modern cooking fuel, and governments battle with the costliness of subsidies, the increasing demand and exploitation of wood and biomass is being overlooked. The harvest of wood and biomass has become one of the top three reasons behind the loss of forest reserve/resource. Intervention strategies backed by climate change concerns have involved the development of smokeless wood stoves, biomass pellets, and development of clean cooking gels/oil from agro-industrial wastes, among others. The real issues however, stem from the uncontrolled harvesting and lopsided revenue accrual. Restructuring the wood and biomass market and introducing efficient economic and technical regulatory mechanisms will help bring poverty eradication and environmental sustainability into the bid to increase energy access.
The unsustainability of fossil fuels for industrial, automotive and agricultural use has necessitated the development of biofuels. Since the economies of African countries are built around crude oil and agriculture, switching to biofuel production has been difficult because the development and sustainability of this sector depends on fossil fuel pricing. There is also the issue of deciding between food and fuel. In accordance with signed international agreements as regards curbing climate change and closing the energy gap, non-food crops and residues have been adopted for the development of biofuels in some parts of Africa.
Efforts have also been made by regional governments to include biofuels in fossil fuel mixes to stimulate the biofuel markets. Unfortunately, supply of feedstock has remained inadequate and conversion technologies have remained out of reach (inaccessible and sometimes too expensive).
The development of value addition processes at every stage of biofuel production has become necessary to cushion any risks that might arise from biofuel development. Other requirements include viable, guaranteed and regulated markets for feedstock and biofuels.
It should therefore be noted that the distribution of cleaner energy sources does not guarantee the alleviation of energy poverty especially among the poor. Sourcing, developing and regulating local and renewable energy options presents comparative advantages in closing the energy gap in Africa.
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