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Sugar Sweetens Deal for Renewable Energy

04 April 2016 | United Nations Environment Programme News Release

In Africa, about 600 million people have no access to grid electricity, with the figure expected to rise to 700 million by 2030. While many African cities rely on fossil fuels or hydroelectric generation to cover their energy needs, at the local, rural level most households must burn biomass – generally wood or charcoal – to cook and to warm their homes.As African populations grow, and with them the demand for electricity, the search is on for low cost, renewable, indigenous fuels that will cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy costs and dependence on fuel imports.

In May this year, countries will meet in Nairobi for UNEA 2 – the world’s de facto “Parliament for the Environment” – to discuss how innovation and technology sharing can bring social, economic and environmental benefits. Finding innovative ways of supplying off-grid energy to rural populations in Africa is vital to providing access to clean, affordable energy for all – a key objective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Cogeneration – the simultaneous production of heat and power – can help meet African energy needs. The waste products of sugar, pulp and paper, wood processing, coffee, maize, rice, sisal, palm oil and other crops can be turned into electricity, generating substantial additional profits for the industries themselves and the farmers who provide the feedstock.

In East and Southern Africa, where dependence on hydropower is high, biomass can supplement power needs when water levels in rivers and dams are low, and help reduce the need for emergency diesel, coal or oil fired power generators.

The Cogeneration for Africa project aims to help around 10 million sugar farmers and their dependants in Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Swaziland, promoting more than $300 million of cogeneration investment and installing 40MW of generating power in six years. And because cogeneration is so profitable, the project expects to set the stage for accelerated investment in coming years.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) implemented Cogeneration for Africa, with $5.25 million in funding from the Global Environment Facility, in partnership with the African Development Bank and the African Energy Policy Research Network.

To date, the project has influenced policy on the sale of renewable energy to national grids in Kenya and Tanzania; conducted workshops on technical and financial issues; supported feasibility studies and the identification of potential cogeneration investments; and concluded nine cooperation agreements with agro-industrial project developers in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi to build cogeneration facilities.

Cogeneration for Africa builds on the success of cogeneration in Mauritius, which currently provides close to 40 per cent of the country’s electricity needs. A UNEP report estimates that, based on existing sugarcane production, cogeneration could contribute an additional 16.2 per cent of power capacity in Kenya, 23.7 per cent of in Malawi, and a remarkable 144.5 per cent in Swaziland.

There are plans to increase the scope of the project elsewhere on the continent through capacity building, and technical and investment support.

About UNEA

In May, hundreds of key decision makers, businesses and representatives of intergovernmental organizations and civil society will gather in Nairobi for UNEA-2 at the United Nations Environment Programme headquarters in Nairobi.

The assembly will be one of the first major meetings since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement. The resolutions passed at UNEA-2 will set the stage for early action on implementing the 2030 Agenda, and drive the world towards a better, more just future.

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