December 2008

The African Academy of Sciences hosted the third TWAS/ROSSA Young Scientists’ Conference on “Alternative Sources of Energy and Potential for Renewable Energy and Biofuels in Africa” in Nairobi, Kenya, on December 15-17, 2008.

The event brought together scientists and experts from academic and research institutions and governments from 19 African countries. Also attending the conference were representatives from the African Union, The International Emergency Management Society (TIEMS) the World Bank and Senior fellows of the African Academy of Sciences and TWAS.

Professor Mohammed Hassan, the President of the African Academy of Sciences opened this third annual conference. Professor Peter Anyang’ Nyongo, the Honorable Minister for Medical Services of the Republic of Kenya provided the keynote address. These eminent speakers encouraged African scientists to explore ways of identifying practical solutions to the myriad of challenges facing African countries in the areas of research and development.

In spite of the abundance and diversity of sources of energy in the continent, African countries consume just about 4% of global annual energy production, whereas the USA consumption is in excess of 25%. Furthermore, Africa is largely at the bottom of the energy ladder, relying on less efficient and cleaner forms of energy. Over the past few years, acute shortages of energy in the face of rising domestic demands have been adversely affecting industrial production and economic growth in the majority of countries in the region.

Against this background, the conference provided an opportunity to highlight research being undertaken by African scientists in various aspects of energy, including biofuels, solar, wind, hydroelectric and nuclear energy to address African energy and development challenges. The conference particularly emphasized the potential of energy for Africa’s economic development and made a number of key recommendations.

In particular, the participants recognized that energy security was of strategic importance for poverty reduction and sustainable development in Africa. They called upon African leaders and governments to work actively to bridge the energy gap with the rest of the world and make energy the driver of economic development and transformation of Africa.

The participants also called upon African governments and regional bodies to speed up the realization of a common pool of resources to support research and development in the areas of renewable and non-renewable energy and to increase energy production and distribution, particularly building on the potential for economies of scale offered by the abundance of renewable energy to enhance economic growth and foster integration along the lines of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) established in 1951. ECSC gave birth to the EU and has since provided the foundation for peace and stability across Europe.

They stressed the importance of establishing continental scientific and engineering institutions to produce world-class engineers and scientists who will have the task of harnessing the wealth of energy resources available in the continent to ensure energy security critical for sound economic growth and sustainable development.

African scientists regretted the fact that tackling the challenges of global warming was not high on the agenda of African governments, especially given that African countries were being disproportionately more affected by the increasing costs of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly illustrated by the rapid progression of the desert in the continent. They called upon African leaders and governments to establish housing standards and improve housing amenities and to establish a moratorium to stop the destruction of the African forest and export of loggings and timbers.

African scientists also recognized the significant spill over effects of nuclear research and advances for economic growth and development, especially in energy-related fields, industries, health and national security. Hence, they called upon African leaders to actively support and undertake efforts to establish a continental research center like CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) to advance nuclear research with a view of bridging the widening gap between Africa and the rest of the world in this area.

In addition, participants also made a number of key recommendations in the specific area of renewable energy (RE). In particular, they proposed that 

  • Governments take deliberate steps to enhance the RE capacity of the primary players;
  • Local institutions and stakeholders undertake a SWOT analysis to assess the potential role of RE to Africa's energy needs and challenges, and the policy options under which renewable energy can make a contribution; 
  • Governments identify promising policy actions and regulatory options required to stimulate broader and accelerated market-based dissemination of RE;
  • Stakeholders assess RE technologies related challenges and discuss how they can be addressed;
  • Stakeholders identify capacity needs for RE markets enablers and players;
  • A concerted and coordinated effort for education, research, development and a plan for extension by governments, training and research institutions, the private sector, IGOs & NGOs in priority issues including, coordination of existing activities and identification of gaps and plan for strategies to fill the gaps;
  • Since Africa is key in the provision of short-term solutions to current and future energy supply and global climate change problems (vast lands for emerging biofuel crops and solar and wind energy potential), participants felt that Africa should play a more proactive and leading role in ongoing discussions on global warming and sustainable development;
  • Public-private partnerships be fostered to enhance the development potential and welfare benefits of RE;
  • A regional / continental energy database and information management systems on RE be established to facilitate dissemination and exchange of information among countries for accelerated deployment of new technologies

Over the last three years, this annual event has emphasized the capacity building of young African scientists in a number of research areas critical for growth and economic development. Next year’s event could focus on information systems for monitoring and evaluation of progress in the areas of energy and sustainable development.