Why Africa needs energy security

Apr 15, 2005 02:00 AM

by Lofty Pretorius

There is a growing realisation that the world of energy as we know it needs to change. A new energy world needs to be developed in which efficiency rules.
Energy is such an integral part of our lives -- be it as wood burnt for heat, electricity, or oil and gas used to run cars -- that it is impossible to imagine life without it.
How often have you walked past a light switch during a blackout and flicked the switch without thinking? Who has tried to turn the TV on to pass the time while everything around you is pitch black? Or prepared a cup of coffee before realising that there is no electricity to boil the water? When at work, we often only think about the electricity when there suddenly isn’t any and our work comes to an abrupt halt.

Humans consume energy at a phenomenal rate, mostly without even thinking about it. Our instinctive and insatiable hunger for energy is leading the energy sector into crisis. Resources such as coal, gas, wood and oil are finite and will eventually run out. In addition, fingers are being pointed at runaway energy consumption as being largely responsible for excessive pollution and resultant global warming.
The release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels makes up 85 % of greenhouse gas emissions in the US alone. Global warming is responsible for the thinning of polar ice caps, the retreat of glaciers around the world, the spread of tropical diseases to temperate climates, and the rising of sea level globally.

As a continent containing several developing nations, Africa has significant heavy industry, which by its very nature is energy-intensive. According to South Africa’s Department of Minerals and Energy, it is one of the highest emitters of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide per capita in the world. The problem of sulphur dioxide and smoke emissions is also an area for concern.
With the war in Iraq, governments have come to realise that they are far too reliant on oil-producing nations to provide them with the necessary resources that keep economies functioning. There is a global realisation that the world of energy as we know it needs to change. A new energy world needs to be developed, one where efficiency rules.

By current estimates, oil production will peak between 2020 and 2040, at which point the world’s economies will have consumed at least half of the known global oil reserves. Two-thirds of the remaining oil will be held by the Middle East.
Bearing this in mind, and with the war in Iraq, most nations have realised the national importance of energy security and the value that energy efficiency policies have in providing this. Reducing the required volume of imported primary energy sources such as crude oil will enhance the robustness of a country’s energy security and increase its resilience against external energy supply disruptions and price fluctuations.

Implementing energy efficiency programmes will help nations to reduce atmospheric emissions such as carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide that have adverse affects on health, are primary causes of common respiratory ailments, and contribute towards global warming. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says energy efficiency programmes over the last 30 years have resulted in the energy intensity of the US economy falling by more than 40 %. That means that without energy efficiency, the US would be using 70 % more energy to support its economic growth.
The council also says efficiency is an engine of sustainable economic growth. If the US had not become 40 % more efficient, it would be spending an extra $ 400 bn a year on energy, above the $ 600 bn currently being spent. This would divert an extra 4 % of GDP to energy costs, costing the US over $ 1 000 a year per person in direct energy bills.

Never mind costs: with the high rate of population growth in the US, China, and India it is estimated that existing power generation capacity will be insufficient to meet rising demands anyway. Africa faces this same demand/supply challenge. The powers that be, locally and internationally, are realising the need to extend the life of fossil fuels and the use of nuclear power; move toward renewable alternatives such as wind, biomass and solar power; or fuel the world with fusion reactors. The common thread and salvation for the energy sector is advances in science and technology.
Focused science and technology, cutting-edge research and development, and heightened international co-operation are steps on the path to energy security in the 21st century.

Lofty Pretorius is an energy solutions consultant at South African information technology giant arivia.kom.

Source: Business in Africa
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