06.04.2020 Feature Article

Ghana’s Energy Woes Is A Construction Problem

Ghana’s Energy Woes Is A Construction Problem
LISTEN APR 6, 2020

Ghana’s energy demand is increasing against a stagnant secondary supply since 1995 – when Ghana’s construction expansion started showing signs of negatively impacting demand. Around that time, Ghana’s population also showed expansion thus the demand for houses. This phenomenon caused the expansion of new towns close to the capital and today that expansion has contributed to the link between Accra and Kasoa, Aburi and Nsawam. As population expansion contributes to economic gains, in Ghana the opposite occurs as many new buildings and industries needed to contain the expansion were not planned. Often, population expansion does not necessarily mean economic growth but increased energy consumption as demand for power is proportional to increased population. Unfortunately, the majority of existing buildings built over the years do not conform to international standards as the Ghana Building Regulation had been outmoded and poorly enforced. This trend has continued for so many years and yet there is no solution to the address the challenges. This short article articulates some of the problems and examines the way forward by focusing on residential existing buildings in Ghana.

There are arguments illustrating many of the challenges that contribute to increased energy demand particularly of residential buildings. Close to 80% of existing residential buildings are poorly oriented, designed and constructed, not properly defined and supervised, with low engagement of qualified professionals, general lack of data on construction and residential buildings, energy demand is poorly estimated, unemployment etc. among many others. This article argues and highlights some of the problems as follows:

  • Poor orientation – this phenomenon contributes close to 60-70% of indoor energy demand in residential buildings due to discomfort. In this scenario, buildings are oriented in the direction of the sun rays, with the longest sections exposed to continuous sunshine. Occupants often feel uncomfortable, thus increased used of indoor cooling technologies such as the AC.
  • Poor selection of construction materials has been a source of concern to practitioners and researchers. This is largely a lack of demand for new systems that seek to improve energy savings in existing buildings. Unfortunately, in a tropical region like Ghana, many residential buildings still incorporate materials with high U-values such as single glazed windows and doors, use of extended roof systems with aluminium and zinc as a finish. The high U-values mean increased energy demand thereby adding to the existing pressure on the national supply positions.
  • Further, poor construction and supervision is the main reason some buildings have failed to reduce losses through external walls as buildings are poorly constructed in Ghana. Many artisans with no or minimal qualifications are mostly engaged although they are not in any position to build to standard. Room height often not up to standard with door and window positions not in line with the direction of the wind. Such conditions lead to indoor discomfort which demands the use of fans and conditioners thereby leading to increased energy use. Most of the buildings with such deficiencies emit and allow energy into buildings leading to losses and unnecessary demands.
  • Low enforcement of building regulation/code has been a major hinderance over the years. It is a common knowledge that the Ghana Building Code is not enforced at all. Majority of residential building are not consistent with the provisions of the code yet there are no actions to amend the problems. The Assemblies lack of will to enforce the regulation is negatively impacting energy demand and use.
  • Also, low level of engagement of professionals by clients particularly developers of residential buildings is a source of concern. The construction industry is one of those industries with very low engagement of qualified professionals. Many clients including well trained professionals engage artisans; often unable to interpret basic architectural and structural drawings. Many of the residential buildings are designed and drawn by draughtmen. Aside the drawings they supervise and provide approximate and detailed cost estimates for clients. Every design has a scientific position often expressed in a form of drawings, this often leads to unplanned energy losses and increased demand.
  • Unlike countries overseas, professional institutions in Ghana are not responding to the challenges or problems posed by the existing stock of residential buildings - poorly designed and built. Majority of the professional bodies are not collaborating effectively with stakeholders to improve construction in the country.
  • Unfortunately, the employment rate in the Ghana is high causing as many young and able men and women to stay home. Although there is no reliable data to reference it is estimated to be in the region of 50-60%. Obviously, they are expected to drink cold water, watch TV, listen to radio, warm food etc. thereby increasing energy use as there is increased indoor time.
  • Finally, there is a general phenomenon in the country regarding data gathering particularly on the number of residential buildings added to the existing stock every year and the expected energy demand. Unfortunately, data is often unavailable as those available are unreliable thus affecting estimates of approximate energy demand.

The article proposes solutions to address the problem:

  • Importantly, close to 90% of existing residential buildings must be sustainably upgraded to ensure usage of sustainable construction technologies with high energy efficiency ratings. Sustainable upgrade of Ghana’s existing building stock is necessary considering the rate at which new communities are developed every year and the impact on energy supply.
  • Also, research on the household appliances and usage is needed to ensure that by adding energy demand of the appliances to energy losses through the windows, doors and walls could achieve the expected demand including allowances for unpredictable behavioural patterns. Further, establishing the true number of residential buildings in Ghana could help arrive at estimates of expected energy demand. This missing link should be addressed to improve energy savings.
  • Furthermore, there should be a well-designed energy efficiency policy consistent with that of the developed world to ensure that clients and developers adopt energy saving strategies and technologies.
  • Establishing these strategies could yield between 20-30% of energy saving as the existing buildings stock is improved with sustainable technologies. The rate of 20- 30% is consistent with global energy saving by countries that have attempted to address challenges posed by the existing buildings stock. Countries that developed of sustainable energy policies have shown substantial energy savings to improve or reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions.

In conclusion, Ghana’s existing building stock is a major energy problem that should be addressed.

John Dadzie, PhD
Expert in Construction and Building Performance, Kumasi Technical University Building Technology Department

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