WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE SUSTAINABLE ENERGY PLANS?
A sustainable energy plan is one that meets our energy needs today without risking that our energy sources will run out in the future. In addition, sustainable energy is ‘clean’, meaning that it does not harm the environment.
Following this, fossil fuels like coal are not sustainable energy sources. When coal is burned, it gives off greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which damage the earth’s atmosphere. This contributes to climate change, which leads to more extreme storms, floods, and droughts. In addition, supplies of coal are finite, meaning that they will run out one day. This is why it is so important that we all adopt sustainable energy plans. It might be easy to get our energy from burning fossil fuels today, because they are still readily available. However, how will our children meet their energy needs in the future? And what about our children’s children? We run the risk of there being no fossil fuels left by the end of the century. Worse still, the planet will be damaged by our use of them in the past.
Having a sustainable energy plan, then, is about protecting and preparing for the future. And, in order to secure a sustainable future, we must turn to renewable energy sources today.
RENEWABLE AND NON-RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES
Renewable energy sources include solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. They are readily available and will never run out (they ‘renew’ themselves). The other good news is that they are cheap, thanks to many recent improvements in technology.
However, it is not realistic to assume that we can rely only on renewable sources of energy today. Currently, sub-Saharan Africa produces over two thirds of its power from non-renewable resources, including coal, oil, and gas. To add to difficulties, gas is actually increasing in popularity as a source of energy. As a result, most countries remain very dependent on these resources, and it takes time to reduce this dependence.
ENERGY SECURITY AND BALANCE
A sensible approach to sustainability must consider economic security. Following this, a positive step towards achieving a sustainable energy plan is to find balance. If, for example, a country manages to produce two thirds of its energy from renewable sources in the next 50 years, then maybe in the next hundred years it will be able to eliminate fossil fuels completely. Making this transition in a slow, safe way avoids the risk of not having enough power.
A balanced energy plan is less vulnerable. Even if one energy source fails, a country with a balanced energy plan will still be able to produce enough power from other sources. Currently, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) produces 99% of its electricity from hydropower, most of which comes from a single site (the Grand Inga Dam). On the one hand, this means that electricity in the DRC is provided by a renewable and clean source. On the other hand, if there is a problem with the dam system then the country’s supply of electricity will be very vulnerable.
Ethiopia provides us with an example of how to solve this problem. Many wind farms have been constructed in the country, and they are most efficient in the dry season when the winds are highest. Hydropower plants have also been constructed, and they are most efficient in the wet season. This means that Ethiopia’s power supply is balanced throughout the year.
As countries in sub-Saharan Africa develop their energy plans, balance will be a top priority.
JOBS AND THE ECONOMY
There are economic benefits to creating a sustainable energy plan. Reshaping the energy industry will create many new jobs. It has been estimated that up to 2.5 million new jobs could be created by expanding the energy and electricity infrastructure in the region. These jobs would include work on hydroelectric plants, constructing electricity networks, and distributing solar panels. Developing a sustainable energy plan also means that less electricity will have to be imported from other countries. As a result, the industry is owned and managed by the country that uses it.
Africa has greater opportunities for renewable energy than any other continent in the world. What’s more, the renewable energy potential in sub-Saharan Africa is high enough to meet all of its future energy needs. And in pursuing this sustainable future, a lot of jobs will be created on the way.