Ghana passed the Renewable Energy Act in 2011 with high promises to ensure a more sustainable and reliable energy supply in the country. In line with the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, Ghana has since aimed at generating 10% of its electricity from solar, wind and biofuels by the year 2030 to reduce carbon emissions, with a lower cost of power generation. But what practical steps has Ghana taken since the Paris Agreement?
It has been over seven years since these promises were made following a readily available law as well as other policies on renewable energy generation. Ghana has also received funding support of about 100 million euros from Germany.
Question is: Is there appreciable evidence now to show as a national commitment to a sustainable energy transition and in support of the Paris Agreement?
Number seven of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enjoins nations, including Ghana, to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030; I therefore set out to ascertain if Ghana, a country whose carbon emission (from fossil fuels) is pegged at 1.3 tons, is really committed to achieving a sustainable renewable energy and transitioning from fossil fuel usage.
Existence of a coherent policy
Ghana has a renewable energy law. The Medium Term Development Framework has aligned government intentions with the SDG 7. Some policies have been made and rolled out. Such include the installation of solar energy panels at various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). There is also the rooftop solar housing project which hopes to see all houses have solar panels fixed on them with a projection of covering up to 200,000 homes. Aside that government holds annually a renewable energy fair, through the Energy Commission, which brings together renewable energy experts to discuss how Ghana could take advantage of the abundant solar energy resource to reduce utility costs. Thus, in terms of meeting international commitment (SDG 7) and making a policy, the government does well.
The government, through Volta River Authority (VRA), has so far been seen to invest in a solar plant with 2.5 megawatts of power in upper Ghana. Government is said to have committed about GHC200,000.00 in the rooftop solar panel project with the expectation that 200,000 homes would have the panel on their roofs. It gives the panel then the household invests GHC4,000.00 into it as their commitment. There is a few challenges with this.
First, many Ghanaians are yet to even appreciate the importance of the solar energy so the GHC4,000.00 seems so expensive to them. Secondly, rural households are known to have a very low saving propensity and therefore will not be able to afford investing GHC4,000.00 into energy. Meanwhile, this package is not a turnkey thing where you get the power immediately you fix it.
Solar facilities are expensive. At least a number of consumers have come forward to demand to patronize renewable energy as well as some companies who are interested in buying and supplying to end users. But the incentives are currently a limitation.
In an interview with an energy policy analyst at the African Centre for Energy Policy (ACEP) Ghana, Mr. Ishmael Ackah, he confirmed that Ghana has been slow towards working at renewable energy generation.
According to him, the government is building a mini plant (solar powered) for communities without electricity so they pay certain amount monthly. However, there is no policy on mini grid or off grid with regard to renewable energy and, incentivizing the private sector to go into renewable energy is a challenge in Ghana.
According to Mr. Mikdad Mohammed, a research analyst at the Institute for Energy Security (IES), government’s plan of having its own buildings (MDAs) have solar panels has been unsuccessful due to high cost. He said the government was counting on third parties to fund it but the public had the understanding that the solar panels were initially going to be given for free since it is a new technology.
“The government projected to cover 200,000 homes with solar but as at now only 2,000 are covered. Because it is only the rich who are able to patronize solar energy” he said.
From checks, out of over 55 companies that got provisional licenses in 2016, only five have been granted construction permit to do business in renewable energy. Meaning, between getting the provisional license to getting the construction permit, many dropped off which indicates that there are potholes at the supplier side. While some companies lack finances, some are also threatened with the fact that they will put in all their money only to sell the power to ECG which will not reimburse them on time.
Mr. Ackah suggested that Ghana needs innovative financing at the consumer side by ensuring that Net meters be fixed to give them the incentive to opt for solar instead of the grid. He said with net meters, one can sell or credit excess power to the grid.
He again suggested that Social intervention programmes like LEAP could be used to take advantage of renewable energy. “Instead of giving LEAP beneficiaries the cash, can it be used for a solar panel so that instead of giving them say GHC100.00, GHC 50.00(The money) is used(invested) for solar energy so the poor wouldn’t have to pay electricity bill?”
There is a mounting concern among Civil Society groups about Ghana’s slow pace to renewable energy generation. One of such groups, Friends of the Earth (FOE)-Ghana is supporting in raising public awareness on energy sovereignty and inclusive energy transition with emphasis on the need to realign national energy planning and governance processes.
FOE-Ghana believes that it is possible to build climate-safe, community-owned, sustainable energy systems which ensure the basic right to energy for everyone including rural communities and poor households. To get there, it calls for realigning of Ghana’s oil-related interests and investments with sustainable renewable energy targets and also ensure real democratic control over the energy decisions of our governments.
According to scientists from the field of Earth system science, humans are living in a new geological epoch called Anthroposcene in which inequality is the main driver of climate change and loss of biodiversity on a scale that is hard to comprehend. They questioned, “If climate change and loss of biodiversity are not managed, what about the prospect for peace, freedom from violence, human rights and gender equality?” the reason Ghana needs to have an ‘Another Development’ mentality towards renewable energy.
Government is good at projection. But go to the grounds and it is something different. Despite a number of solar energy programs outlined for implementation, renewable energy currently constitutes less than 2% of electricity production in Ghana. At the same time government’s attention seem clearly focused on fossil fuel generation. Out of the total installed capacity of about 2,703.5MW, 50 percent comes from hydropower installations, with the rest coming from thermal plants burning Natural Gas (NG), Light Crude Oil (LCO), or diesel.
There are appreciable policy drives but the financing to translate the policies into actual renewable power is a challenge. Though government has intentions to move to renewable energy, the progress has been very slow. The 10% target set for 2020 did not seem a possibility; thus, with other ground observations, the 2030 target may not materialize without a radical shift away from the business-as-usual scenario. Government needs to scale up public education on what renewable and/or solar energy is and what Ghanaians stand to benefit from it.
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