opinionBy Fifi Rhodes
Are we bright enough or are we used to being spoon fed? NamPower, Namibia's power utility, produces only 39 percent of the country's electricity needs from domestic generation and through bi-lateral agreements imports the balance from our neighbours. Our country's demand for electricity is growing as the economy develops and as NamPower needs to provide more electricity to rural areas, the pressure increases. The recent announcement by the power utility for the establishment of a potential biomass and solar power plant would potentially have a positive impact beyond the supply of sustainable energy, namely on agriculture, rural employment and food security. This project, as understood is assisted with a technical assistance grant from the Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) envelope of the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund, for the funding of a Feasibility Study to assess the implementation of a biomass-fired power plant in the country to harvest invader bush as primary fuel, as well as the implementation of a solar power (CSP/PV) plant with storage in the country.
I mention this, because two weeks ago, was a very significant milestone in the history of energy efficiency when the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All Forum, opened in New York. Following a brief opening plenary, more than 700 participants had panel discussions with over 200 speakers taking the floor. During that week there were also parallel multi stakeholder sessions and the launch of the Renewables 2014 Global Status Report. (REN21).
Energy is fundamental to development in Namibia. We rely on energy to ensure access to clean water, clean cooking, education and healthcare to our people. We need it to power our agricultural sectors, to create jobs and to support local businesses. In other words, we need sustainable energy to power our sustainable development. On that day also, the European Commission released a report documenting the financial resources and tools it has deployed to support sustainable energy developments abroad. Titled "Empowering Development Delivering Results in the Decade of Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL)", the report gives an overview of the country context, main activities and expected results of energy related projects supported by the EU in developing countries. The report aims to demonstrate how the EU transforms commitments into actions. Projects described in the report span the globe, including: developing Pakistan's hydropower sector, expanding hydroelectric energy to isolated villages in Tanzania, installing solar home systems in rural Ugandan households, demonstrating a solar and biomass power plant in Namibia, improving transmission lines in Paraguay, building a grid interconnection in Georgia, creating a Caucasus Sustainable Energy Finance Facility and designing the Moldovan Residential Energy Efficiency Financing Facility (MoREEFF).
The report also outlines the EU's energy approach in development and its plans for continued work. It seems to me when investing in projects, the EU aims to end energy poverty and foster growth, largely by creating the conditions that will attract private sector investment, according to the report. It focuses on enabling a policy and regulatory framework that is conducive to private sector activities. Countries are supported in this effort with funds from the EU Technical Assistance Facility.
I understand from the meeting, that from 2014 to 2020, the EU intends to invest €3 billion in sustainable energy to its partner countries including Namibia. According to the report, this investment will leverage another €15 billion in equity and loans. In deploying this next round of finance, the EU's strategy will concentrate on: refining existing instruments and adapting those to local realities; boosting the productive use of energy, scaling existing activities, partnering with the local private sector and other networks and addressing constraints encountered in the last phase of support.
In Africa, the population is expected to double by the middle of this century. As a result, it is clear that the need for energy will continue to grow over the coming years, not just to meet basic needs for the growing population, but also to improve living standards and to meet the new requirements of expanding economies on the African continent. The Namibian Private Sector engagement is therefore key for the energy sector and this in turn allows businesses to grow. If businesses want to expand, they need energy. Farmers need energy for processing and cooling for preservation, craftsmen need energy to drive their tools, hospitals need energy for health care services and training centres need energy for computers and so on. Moreover, the energy sector in itself generates business, such as independent power producers (IPPs) at local level that need to rely on a stable enabling environment for their investments to grow. But fostering businesses is not a goal just by itself.
This energy will be greatly needed in order to create jobs for young people. The real challenge especially for us Namibians, will be to provide the necessary growth in order to absorb the increase in population that we will face in coming decades. These jobs can be developed only through the development of small and medium enterprises at local level. This should also be done by investing in modern energy technologies such as renewable and energy efficiency solutions at Polytech and UNAM. These will generate in turn higher qualified jobs, developing the capacity and technical skills required at local level. In addition, with its vast and untapped natural resources, Africa and Namibia in specific, is an ideal place for renewable energy solutions. The Namibian Private Sector co-operation will be key from now on in transforming this potential into concrete investments and generating growth at local level. Public private partnerships could further be enhanced at our vocational centers, as they can contribute to a conducive environment for investments, facilitate technology transfer and pilot project demonstration.