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Africa/Global: Making Choices on Climate Future

AfricaFocus Bulletin
March 9, 2016 (160309)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

The choices for the future of the planet's climate are ever more stark in 2016. While the "incumbency" fossil-fuel system (as analyst Jeremy Leggett terms it) remains powerful, the trends favoring a more rapid transition to renewable energy are building much more rapidly than almost anyone expected. Coal is clearly on the way out, with the possible exception of South Africa, which continues to invest in this outdated and deadly technology. And downward cost trends in solar, wind, battery storage, and other renewable technologies continue to accelerate both in developed and in developing countries.

According to GTM Research, the U.S. solar market is set to grow a staggering 119 percent this year, while new reports also forecast rapid growth globally and in Africa for "pico-solar" solutions reaching those without access to electricity, with major positive impact on income, health, and the environment. Meanwhile, however, most countries are also still pursuing an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy which has not yet abandoned new investment in the most damaging alternatives such as coal mining and fracking.

[See on South Africa. And on the United States, in the midst of unresolved policy debates over energy policy, note the Washington Post editorial passionately depending fracking against the critique by candidate Bernie Sanders

This AfricaFocus contains (1) excerpts from a report from the Overseas Development Institute on the rapid advance of off-grid solar markets in sub-Saharan Africa, (2) a press release from GroundWork South Africa on the failure of environmental assessment of a new proposed new coal plant, and (3) an overview by Jeremy Leggett of global trends moving towards renewable energy and the looming (if uncertain in timing) death spiral for the economic viability not only of coal but also of oil and gas.

For an up-to-date global overview of off-grid solar market trends, see the report by Lighting Global and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, published March 3, 2016 - direct URL:

For the latest GreenTechMedia Research on the U.S. solar market, released on March 9, see

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletin's on climate change and the environment, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Accelerating access to electricity in Africa with off-grid solar

Andrew Scott, Johanna Diecker, Kat Harrison, Charlie Miller, Ryan Hogarth and Susie Wheeldon

January 2016

Overseas Development Institute - direct URL

The reports from this study include an executive summary, excerpted below, as well as case studies from 13 different African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.)


Today, more than one person in five lives without access to electricity; 48% are in Africa. Around 80% of those without access to modern energy live in rural areas. Given the high cost and slow pace of grid expansion to rural areas, decentralised options are often the cheapest and fastest way to extend energy access (IEA, 2014). Solar PV systems are the cheapest source of electricity for over one-third of Africa's population - a figure that is rapidly increasing with falling solar prices.

There is now a wide variety of technical options that can provide off-grid solar electricity to individual households. These solutions to the challenge of energy access range from pico-solar lanterns (with a capacity of under 3 watts) to large solar home systems (above 2kW capacity), which power several lights and electrical appliances. New models of financing and distribution, as well as the development of pico-solar lanterns, have been instrumental in enabling low-income households to gain access to solar energy (Szabó et al. 2013). This report considers the full range of solar devices, using terms such as ‘solar households solutions' or ‘solar off-grid options', except where it specifically refers to solar lanterns or larger solar home systems (SHS).

This report was prepared for the Department for International Development in support of preparations for the Energy Africa access campaign, which aims to accelerate access to electricity in subSaharan Africa through solar household solutions. It presents evidence of the impact of solar household systems, reviews the market in the region and 13 selected countries (listed in Table 1 below), and identifies the key policy measures to enable accelerated access to electricity through solar household solutions.

The impact of solar household solutions

Impact on household finances

Poor households tend to spend a higher fraction of their income on energy, often for vastly inferior levels of energy services. Rural families across Africa spend ~10% of household income for 4 hours of light at night using kerosene, torches or candles. Families with a solar light save over $60 a year, spending just 2% of their household income on lighting (SolarAid, 2012-15). Lighting Africa (2010) reported that replacing kerosene lamps with solar lights could offer returns on investment of 15-45 times the cost of the light. The Africa Progress Panel (2015) reported that halving the cost of inefficient lighting sources would save $50 billion for people living below $2.50 per day. It estimated that these monetary saving would be sufficient to reduce poverty by 16-26 million people.

Moreover, households with access to a solar product that charges a mobile phone can save money on charging fees. Off-grid households in Africa spend on average $0.66 a week charging mobile phones, and travel 28 minutes one- way to the nearest charging station (SolarAid, 2012-15).

Impact on quality of lighting

Beyond financial savings, solar users benefit from extra lighting hours and better quality and more reliable lighting. A SolarAid (2012-15) survey found after purchasing a pico-solar light, households increased the amount of time that they light their home from 3.8 to 5 hours per night.

Impact on income generation

Improved quality and quantity of lighting can create opportunities for income-generating activities by increasing the time available for productive work. A number of studies found the availability of solar lighting after sunset increased the likelihood that enterprises will generate additional income by extending their working hours. Solar products that enable energy services beyond lighting create further income generating opportunities. Mobile phone charging businesses are particularly common. Solar- powered pumps also offer an increasingly attractive option for small-scale irrigation systems, but often with capital costs that are too high for low-income households.

Impact on health

By replacing kerosene lanterns, solar systems can help reduce household air pollution. The fine particulates emitted by keroseneusing devices exceed WHO guidelines. They impair lung function and increase infectious illness (including tuberculosis), asthma, and cancer risks. Poor lighting from kerosene lanterns is also associated with compromised visual health (UNICEF, 2015). Epidemiological evidence on the morbidity and mortality associated with kerosene lighting is currently inconclusive.

Solar household systems can also keep families and communities safer by replacing the use of flame-based lighting, thereby reducing burns, accidents and fires. Poisoning often occurs as kerosene is commonly sold in soda bottles and it can be mistaken for soda. UNICEF (2015) reported that the primary cause of child poisoning in developing countries is accidental kerosene ingestion, and burns are identified as one of the leading causes of child injury. One third of SolarAid (2014-15) customers interviewed in Uganda had experienced fires, burns and/or poisoning from kerosene.

Beyond improving health through safe household lighting, larger solar PV systems can improve the functioning of rural health facilities by enabling better lighting, ICT for administration, information, and aftercare services; laboratory equipment and refrigeration for the storage of vaccines, blood and other medical supplies. Over 30% of all health facilities in sub-Saharan African, serving approximately 255 million people, lack access to electricity (Practical Action, 2013).

Impact on education

There is clear evidence that better access to lighting provides children with opportunities to increase the quality and time of their study/homework. SolarAid (2012-15) found that school children in Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia rated limited lighting as their main barrier to learning and do homework. After obtaining a solar light, children increased their study time on average from 1.7 to 3.2 hours each night. Other studies found similar improvements, but to differing degrees. Larger solar PV systems can also provide rural schools with electricity. Practical Action (2013) estimated that 65% of primary schools in sub-Saharan Africa, representing 90 million pupils, lack electricity.

Impact on the environment

Worldwide, kerosene lamps emit an estimated 270,000 tonnes of black carbon per year, causing a climate warming equivalent of close to 240 million tonnes of CO 2 , a magnitude similar to the annual emissions of Vietnam (Lam et al., 2012; WRI, 2015). Alstone et al. (2015) estimated doing that, when black carbon is accounted, the climate forcing from households using kerosene lighting is nearly 10 times as high as that of the typical grid-connected households in Kenya. Harrison & Lam (2015) found that switching from kerosene to solar can reduce annual household emissions by as much as 555kg CO 2 e.

An outcome of the growth in sales of solar household systems will be the associated increase in electronic waste. Recycling and electronic waste facilities are uncommon in Africa and there is a low level of awareness of the risks, of battery disposal for example. Some organisations have started recycling trials.

Impact on quality of life

SHSs can have significant positive impacts on quality of life. In Bangladesh, 82% of SHS users agreed that their system had increased their social status, stating that neighbours and relatives from other villages visited their houses more often to enjoy the clean lighting. Their SHS increased the amount of time that they engaged in social activities (Urmee & Harries, 2011). In Africa, 85% of pico- solar users said their solar light affected the activities they were able to do at night (SolarAid, 2012-15).

Impact on communications and access to information

Solar household systems that offer more than just lighting can significantly improve communications and access to information. In Uganda, 80% of phone owners charged their phones using solar systems, suggesting that access to SHS enables telecommunication in non-electrified areas (Harsdorff et al., 2009). Access to reliable and affordable charging for mobile phones can also facilitate access to financial services such as mobile money; allowing rural and/or unbanked populations to be served. In Bangladesh, 95% of SHS users reported improved access to information through mobile phone, TV or radio. Many agreed that by watching TV or listening to the radio they had greater access to information and were more informed about general news, health-related issues, weather and natural disasters (Urmee & Harries, 2011).

Impact on livelihoods: through solar supply chain

The development of the solar market creates jobs and income-generation opportunities throughout the supply chain. In Bangladesh, the Africa Progress Panel (2015) found 114,000 jobs in solar panel assembly were created in the last 10 years. Up to 15,000 new jobs have been created in sub-Saharan Africa through the distribution of off-grid lighting UNEP, 2014).

The market for solar household solutions

The market for quality-certified solar products has grown rapidly over the past five years, reaching almost 3.5 million units in 2014. This market grew by 165% between 2011 and 2012, and by 204% between 2012 and 2013. The rate of increase fell to 27% between 2013 and 2014, and it may have declined in the first half of 2015.

Good market information about non-certified products is unavailable, but Lighting Africa estimated that they had a 57% share of the total market in 2012 (Lighting Africa, 2012). If non-certified products are taken into account, the growth in the overall market may be continuing.

Three countries - Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia - accounted for 78% of the sales in 2014, reaching a market penetration of 15-20% of off-grid households. These countries have a comparatively supportive policy environment for solar household solutions. For the region as a whole, market penetration is estimated to be around 3%.

The development of pay-as-you-go business models, which aim for high customer density, and the growth trend of existing companies, suggest that markets are likely to expand outward from their existing location.


The main current trend is the emergence of the pay- as-you-go (PAYG) model, under which ownership of the solar product is transferred to the consumer after a limited payment period. The PAYG market is very dynamic, with new approaches appearing quickly, companies changing their approach, and others disappearing from the market. A recent survey found that 60% of PAYG companies use mobile payments to collect revenue (Lighting Global, 2015).


A simple model was therefore developed for the study, to understand what it would take to achieve universal access to electricity under three scenarios: Business as Usual, Sustainable Energy for All, and Power for All. These scenarios assume universal access is achieved by 2080, 2030 and 2025, respectively. The model under these scenarios was applied to market in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole and to the market in 13 selected countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

GroundWork And SDCEA Appeal Colenso Environmental Authorisation

groundWork (Friends of the South Africa) South Durban Community Environmental Alliance

Media Advisory

March 3, 2016 - direct URL:

Durban & Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 3 March 2016 - groundWork and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights, on 1 March 2016 launched an appeal to the Minister of Environmental Affairs against the environmental authorisation granted to Colenso Power (Pty) Ltd for its proposed coal-fired power station near the town of Colenso.

The entire Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process was conducted within just a few months, in keeping with the severelyrestricted timeframes in the latest EIA Regulations. groundWork and SDCEA argue that these timeframes fail to provide an adequate opportunity to assess the significant negative impacts the power station is set to have on people and their ability to live in a clean, healthy environment, or for interested and affected parties to participate meaningfully in the EIA process.

"The DEA has not applied its mind to this environmental authorisation, but instead pushed through the authorisation without adequately considering critical impacts that the power station will have on water, air quality, human health and climate change", said Bobby Peek, Director of groundWork, which is based in Pietermaritzburg.

The appeal states that the Chief Director (as the relevant Department of Environmental Affairs' (DEA) decision-maker) failed, in granting the authorisation, to give adequate consideration to, for example: The National Environmental Management Act (NEMA) Principles, the NEMA s24O factors, the need for and desirability of the station and whether the application for the authorisation included an assessment of all the impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed coal-fired power station. This is so because the environmental impact report (EIR) for the power station:

  • neglects to provide information which is crucial for purposes of adequately assessing the proposed station's impacts - for example, the report does not state where and how the power station will obtain two-thirds of the coal it will need to operate;
  • contains incorrect information (for example, estimations of the power station's greenhouse gas emissions and total water requirements which are significantly below the true extent of these emissions and the actual quantities of water required); and
  • fails to assess adequately the impacts that the power station will have on, for example, climate change, air quality, water, and human health.

The appeal also emphasises the impact of the current drought in KwaZulu Natal. The failure to give this any consideration in assessing the water impacts that the power station will have - particularly on the Thukela river, and the communities and other users that already depend on it is another ground on which the authorisation should be set aside.

The Chief Director cannot be said to have met the NEMA requirements or considered the impacts of the proposed power station, in circumstances where the EIR is incorrect and lacks fundamental information and assessments. In addition, the conditions and mitigation measures proposed in the authorisation are vague. They lack the necessary detail and rigour to limit harm to the environment and human health once the power station starts operating.

By granting this appeal, the DEA is setting the standard for one of the first Coal Baseload Independent Power Producers to use 198m3 of water per day - a conservative amount given by the EIR - in a country where one million people already do not have access to the minimum quota of 25 litres of potable water per day. Colenso Power is looking to the Tugela River Catchment to source its water, despite the country being in the midst of a severe drought.

If the declaration of the Highveld Air Priority Area has shown us anything, it is that coal-fired power stations have a severely detrimental effect on the health and well-being of people living in their vicinity. Yet, and despite groundWork calling upon it to do so, Colenso Power neglected to conduct a health study as part of their EIA.

According to Desmond D'sa, Coordinator of the SDCEA, "The model of development which has rested on the myth of mining as a source of wealth for all, is slowly crumbling in the public sphere. Mine workers across the country are disgruntled with indecent conditions and low wages for risky work. Those that live next to mines and power stations, but are without employment, are realising that such 'development' has largely been made up of empty promises."


Bobby Peek
groundWork, Director
Tel (w): +27 (0) 33 342 5662
Tel (m): +27 (0) 82 464 1383

Desmond D'sa
Coordinator, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
Tel (w): +27 (0) 31 461 1991
Tel (m): +27 (0) 83 982 6939

State of The Transition, February: "Most fossil fuel companies face a future in which they might not have the capital to expand even if they still want to."

Jeremy Leggett, March 1, 2016 - direct URL:

[Excerpts. For full article see link above.]

The top ten stories from the drama of the Paris Climate Summit in December and its aftermath through to end February are, I think, as follows, as things stand. Key policymakers are now serious about climate risk. Civil society has awoken in critical mass. Regulators are beginning to regulate climate risk. Disruption is moving faster than most people think. Utilities are racing to escape a death spiral. The shale boom is going bust. The oil and gas industry faces the prospect of a death spiral too. Divestment from the energy incumbency threatens to snowball. Investor engagement with the incumbency, in concert with unfavourable economics, will soon threaten most capital expenditure on fossil-fuel expansion. The legal system is fast becoming a driver for the global energy transition.


3. Regulators are beginning to regulate climate risk

Mark Carney and Michael Bloomberg were key players in Paris. Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, is the man most responsible for the stability of the global capital markets. He intends to ensure investors are provided with the right information so that they can respond to the risks of climate change, and the threat of stranded assets, by switching capital from fossil fuels to clean energy. Bloomberg agreed in Paris to Chair an elite committee of business leaders, the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, that will make that happen. Behind closed doors, their deliberations are already underway. Investors are waiting, sensitised to the need for major change in the way the capital markets approach climate change. This will be a vital drama to follow this year and next. Expect significant diversion of capital away from fossil fuels as a consequence.

4. Disruption is moving faster than most people think

Meanwhile, exciting news continues to flow for both renewables and storage. Renewables accounted for almost two-thirds of new US generating capacity in 2015, we learned in February: 3,500 times more than coal. Almost 8 gigawatts of new wind was installed, and more than 2 gigawatts of solar. Storage is heading for a breakthrough year globally in 2016, industry analyses suggest. Batteries lead the way, with an average price reduction of 35% in 2015.


6. The shale boom is going bust

We entered February with the low oil price accelerating the mothballing of active oil and gas drilling rigs in the US shale regions. The rig count is now down 70% from the peak in October 2014. Four of America’s shale gas regions had become void of all drilling. We left the month with junk-rated debt accumulated by oil companies in excess of $250bn, and debt issuance to the oil industry grinding to a halt. One estimate, by Morningstar, suggests that globally oil has to reach $65 a barrel to cover the average cost of supply. Brent crude in February averaged little above $30 and on two days averaged below $30. The IEA warned in February that the global glut is such that the oil price would stay low for some time.


7. The oil and gas industry faces the prospect of a death spiral too

Bankruptcy is not just a concern for shale drillers. The low oil price has meant that some $400bn of expected investment has been cancelled or delayed, to date. Morgan Stanley calculates that out of more than 230 projects ready to go this year, only nine are now realistic. And if you are not drilling for new oil and gas, and depleting existing reserves, how do you grow and generate cash in the future? Especially if, as we have seen, explosive growth of cars that need no oil is assaulting your market.


8. Divestment from the energy incumbency threatens to snowball

Institutions with well over $3 trillion of funds under management are now divested or pledged to do so, and the movement is growing. If anyone felt inclined to suggest that this isn’t a significant threat to the oil industry, it became more difficult for them to do so on February 25th, when Ali Al-Naimi, Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Petroleum & Mineral Resources, exhorted his industry to combat divestment. “We must not ignore the misguided campaign to ‘keep it in the ground’ and hope it will go away”, he said.


9. Investor engagement with the incumbency, in concert with unfavouable economics, will soon threaten most capital expenditure on fossil-fuel expansion

[Even] Investors who don’t divest give no free pass to oil and gas companies. The lesson of coal is there for all to see, and many investors have been badly burned by it. Share prices have collapsed spectacularly. Banks including Goldman Sachs have concluded that the coal industry is in structural decline. The bankruptcies to date include America’s second biggest miner, Arch Coal. Pressure is inevitably extending to the oil and gas industry. Executives are seeing previously unchallenged assertions and business models interrogated as never before. Given everything summarised above, how can this be expected to do anything but worsen in 2016?

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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