Rethinking Ghana’s Energy Future

 In late 2006 and continuing into 2007, Ghana experienced a major power crisis that caused planned power outages, also known as load shedding, with outages lasting up to 72 consecutive hours.  Since then, Ghana has sought to strengthen its electricity sector. However, in spite of these efforts, power supply continues to be a challenge.  For example, in 2013 the load shedding exercise recommenced and it is forecasted to continue until 2015 though on a reduced scale.

This situation arose, in part, from technical issues having to do with an over-aged and inefficient transmission and distribution infrastructure as well as an excess of demand over supply. Currently, Ghana’s electricity market has an estimated 10 to 15 percent annual growth boosted by increasing domestic and industrial demand (Ghana Energy Report, 2014). This situation is particularly disturbing for the Ghanaian economy which has electricity as the key determinant of its economic growth. The ongoing energy crisis is estimated to have reduced Ghana’s GDP growth by 2 to 6 percent annually since 2007.  

In its quest to transform its economic fortunes, Ghana is seeking to expand its industrial base with a reliable supply of energy, primarily with electricity, as the crucial factor and catalyst for industrial development and the gateway out of poverty for many Ghanaians.

The Ghanaian electricity sector is presently in transition, and while it is imperative that the nation finds new generation sources which can satisfy this demand, revamping the transmission and distribution infrastructure to cope with the increased demand is also important. To this end, the Government is inviting more private sector participation in the energy sector.  However, there is still a supply deficit and the state still owns the electricity distribution companies as well as the electricity transmission company .

In the search for solutions to the challenges in the energy sector, a round table conference was organized by the Institute of Green Growth Solutions (IGGS), a non-partisan, independent policy think tank that believes in achieving development in a green way. The conference was co-sponsored by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), an NGO that helps to shape the globalization process along more socially equitable, ecologically sustainable, and economically efficient lines, and Vodafone, a  mobile phone operator that operates in 30 countries and partners with networks in over 50 more countries  and that is the leading provider of machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions, which enable their customers to cut costs and carbon emissions by reducing their energy and fuel use and improving the efficiency of their operations.

Commendable efforts are being made to boost power generation in Ghana, and I find that there will be two major ways of achieving this; attitude change and paradigm shift. An attitude change on the part of the populace in the use of power will go a long way to conserve energy. This can be achieved through sustained education to consolidate gains already made by championing the replacement of inefficient incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) and by advocating for the use of energy efficient appliances. Also, there is the need to change the way buildings are constructed to meet energy efficient requirements, and housing designs should take energy conservation into consideration. This can be enforced by building authorities not granting building permits for such designs and the power companies charging extra tax on buildings that are designed to consume extra energy.

In addition, a paradigm shift is needed on the part of government agencies responsible for providing and regulating energy. It is possible to develop smaller power generation sources instead of the government focusing on one bulk source of energy which has it advocating the use of coal.  In my view, coal is not a home grown solution and will become unsustainable in the long term.  With its abundant carbon emissions, coal is harmful to the environment and human health; even though the worldwide supply of coal is not going to be depleted soon and coal provides one of the seemingly cheapest sources of energy.

If coal is to provide the base load generation of power in Ghana, it will require the building of coal plants and importation of coal. This will call for refitting and redesigning the harbor, which in turn will necessitate building another harbor or expanding the existing one. All this will require huge capital outlays for the purpose of bringing in a power source, coal, that is the greatest culprit of environmental and health destruction. Finally, the regularity of coal supply should also be a source of concern because Ghana already has had the experience of an interrupted supply of gas, from the country that agreed to supply it.    

It is important that each government selects the policy instruments that work best within its economic and cultural setting.  However, it is also essential that a government addresses environmental factors as well as the wellbeing of its people, instead of just focusing on expediency regarding the resource and the situation. 

Looking towards the future, Ghana requires a Ghanaian solution.  Ghana has an abundance of potential solar power, and I believe that even though it may be an expensive solution in the short to medium term, it will become a cheap and perpetual source of energy in the long term; a solution that will preserve the environment and the health of its people. Other energy sources to augment solar energy are wind, biomass and hydro. These sources can be used to supply power in smaller communities that have these locally available energy resources that will reduce the need and the dependence on base load generation of power.  

Read other posts by Dolores Opon Acolatse

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