In the face of the tenacious commitment and effort put in place by various governments to champion the renewable energy (RE) transition agenda there is much to consider.
In spite of the huge investment amount needed to help Ghana leap significantly in the transition to renewable energy sources from fossil fuel dependence, it is much cleaner and cheaper compared to the government investment and subsidies in fossil fuel dominated energy sources.
It is estimated that an investment of US$1.0 billion will be required for utility scale grid connection and off-grid the renewable energy interventions in Ghana.
This investment will produce averagely 775MW of electricity onto the national grid by the year 2020 for residential and industrial consumption. The 775MW is close to the current peak generation capacity of all installed generation plants (1750MW), majority of which are thermal plants and power barges.
Major renewable energy resources in Ghana are:
Mini/small and medium capacity hydropower; Solar energy; Wind energy; Biomass and waste-to-energy; Wave and tidal energy.
Government energy sector policies spell out some renewable energy programmes and preliminary target of installed capacity by 2020. These include: Feasibility study and the development of 3-6 potential sites medium hydro potential sites, targeting (200-300MW); Utility Scale Biomass & W2E (Waste to Energy) Power Plants, targeting 50-100MW; Utility Scale Wind Park, (50-300MW); Distributed grid connected RE generation through Net-metering (solar, wind, biomass, hydro), 30-100MW; and Utility Scale Solar Farms also targeting 150 MW.
For the government to vigorous pursue the renewable energy agenda, there is much political will, financial commitment, flexible and clear cut legal framework and investment promotion or incentives needed from the government and key stakeholders.
Government subsidies and other investment interventions into the energy sector have brought a debt of about US$2.7 billion as at 2016 onto the national kitty. This is a public debt which taxpayers’ money will be used to clear.
This debt is accrued from fossil fuels and related products consumption by public institutions, subsidies, trading and usage for power generation.
Many energy experts and policy analysts including; African Center for Energy Policy, IMANI Africa, ISODEC among others have criticized this huge energy sector debt which they have attributed to government subsidy interventions of electricity and petroleum products for political interest, inefficiency and mismanagement of the energy sector state owned enterprises. Subsidies are policy initiatives implemented by governments to help cushion the poor population to be able to afford basic services as an advantage over the rich population who can afford those services at any cost. In Ghana, over the years, government has subsidized the prices of petroleum products and electricity to cushion the poor, but this subsidies are mostly misapplied thereby defeating the intended purposes and creating more financial stress on the poor population.
In a related development, the Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM) has urged government to review and enforce Renewable Energy Act 832 (2011) to develop and promote the renewable energy sector in Ghana.
This is part of the Movement’s advocacy efforts to review and enforce the Act, supported by the Business Sector Advocacy Challenge (BUSAC) Fund and its development partners DANIDA, EU and USAID.
The Renewable Energy Act was passed to facilitate the achievement of the goal set for renewable energy in the National Energy Policy to account for 10% of total energy generation in the country by 2020.
Passed and assented to by the president in 2011, the Act provides the legal basis for fiscal incentives and regulatory framework to attract investment towards the development, utilization and efficient management of renewable energy resources in the country.
Key provisions in the document that have not been addressed include establishing a Renewable Energy Authority to oversee the implementation of renewable energy projects and activities in the country.
It also touches on the operationalizing a Renewable Energy Fund for the development, promotion and utilization of renewable energy resources in Ghana which has not been implemented.
President Akufo-Addo in his 2017 State of the Nation Address delivered on February 21, admitted that the Renewable Energy Act needed a review to “provide further incentives to attract the private sector to invest”.
He acknowledged that the challenges and difficulties Ghana faced in generating enough electricity to meet her increasing demands for economic growth and development in the past “resulted in frequent power outages and planned power rationing across the country in recent years, leading to reduced workforce productivity, high cost of doing business, and lack of power for essential activities in the home”.
Against this backdrop, GYEM has urged key stakeholders, state actors and implementing institutions such as the Energy Commission, Ministry of Energy and others to fully implement key provisions in the RE Act such as the establishment of the Renewable Energy Authority and the operationalizing of the Renewable Energy Fund, among others.
Most importantly, the Energy Commission and partners are called upon to fast track and expedite action on the RE Master Plan to provide concrete plans to achieve key targets in the industry.
This will give overall policy goals, milestones and timelines that will guide the development of Renewable Energy Technologies (RETs), as well as their deployment and integration into the energy mix.
Also, in recent times, Ghana has embarked on a project to enable the country to share China’s immense experience and skills on renewable energy technologies. The project aims to facilitate the exchange of expertise and technology on renewable energy between China and Ghana, with focus on building the institutional framework and capacity required to facilitate the local absorption of the technologies. The project also seeks to promote the production of renewable energy technologies in Ghana with a strong focus on private sector development and inclusion.
Many benefits await the economy for a significant or dominated renewable energy powered economy in the area of cheap energy, job creation, cleaner and healthy environment and new green investment opportunities.
Meanwhile, energy experts have tabled the following key barriers and policy gaps as the factors that constrain the development and deployment of renewable energy (RE) technologies in Ghana are:
Low level of research, development, demonstration and deployment (R&DDD) on RE; Poor knowledge management and information sharing on RE technologies;
Concern on waste disposal of RE appliances waste;
Poor financing of RE investments;
Lack of affordability of RE systems;
Cumbersome licensing processes;
Challenges with enabling instruments for RE investment;
Unbalanced emphasis on on-grid RE systems; and Inadequate indigenous capacity building.
A report published by Dr. Essel Ben Hagan from the Accra Institute of Technology focused on “Renewable Energy Policy Review, Identification of Gaps and Solutions in Ghana” in December, 2015, which reviewed past and current Chinese and Ghanaian renewable energy
policies and strategies, as well as stakeholder consultations to identify policy gaps and
propose solutions to boost the renewable energy sub-sector in Ghana.
The report revealed that, following the analysis of the renewable energy policy and regulatory instruments as well as national initiatives of Ghana and China, it is evident that learning lessons from successful national initiatives on renewable energy in China will be instrumental in overcoming many of these barriers.
“It is in this light that the national initiatives of China on renewable energy needs to be carefully examined to identify some best practices that may be replicated in
Ghana”, it stated.
Dr. Hagan concluded that, “Ghana needs to consider two major lessons from the national initiatives of China that drove the growth of the renewable energy sub-sector in China under its Renewable Energy Law. These lessons are: i) Combining government’s responsibility and active participation of the private sector; and ii) Combining actual demand and future development.”
Throughout researches done before writing and publishing this article, it is clear that, there are more detailed report and stakeholder consultations activities carried out already which provide the government a clear direction on how to utilize the renewable energy potentials to power the economy at a cheaper cost while safeguarding the environment and creating green jobs.
It is therefore the onus of the government to a clear and full commitment towards the renewable energy transition agenda to help achieve the 2020 targets.