In the age of climate change and an ocular looming global environmental apocalypse—at least, according to unanimous Scientific Consensus—the place of not just energy production but sustainable energy production has become a global ambition; the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal 7 aspires to a world of Affordable and Clean Energy for all peoples. As a result of this critical call by our global community for a transition to a new paradigm of energy production and supply, governments across the world—including successive Ghanaian governments—have grappled with the intractable question of where should attention and tax-payers’ largesse, or “free dollars” from development aid, be focused in a quest to provide environmentally innocuous and cost-effective energy commodities for their citizens.

The growing industrial sector landscape in many parts of Accra, Tema, and other major cities across the country presents an incipient opportunity to incentivize the participation of private companies in making Ghana a green energy hotbed. The industrial landscape from Tema to Accra to Kumasi to Takoradi holds a huge reservoir of opportunities for investments into renewable energy—especially solar. The architectural landscape of most small-scale to large industrial factories are typified by rooftops. This is a favorable architecture for rooftop solar panels. Most factories have an appreciable lot of roof space to strategically invest in energy resources like solar. For example, a government incentive for small-scale factories to install at least 1MW implies 100 factories will contain 100MW capacity. This could be a good start. Provision of incentive schemes by government for industrial sector participation in the country’s energy transition agenda will ultimately offload the ever-increasing pressure on government to meet the growing demand for power by the country’s industrial sector. Consequently, this will drive green growth and sustainable development.

Just like in most developing countries, clean energy transition projects have been inundated by financial bottlenecks in Ghana. One critical theme government should pay laser-attention is the prevailing unfavorable macroeconomic climate for green investments. Green energy investments have been stifled by high interest rates—mostly non-differentiated from other sectors of the economy. This macro-economic ambience has discouraged private sector players as well as consumer participation in the green economy. A proposed strategy is for government to set up a differentiated macro-economic climate for investment in the renewable energy sector. Plus, introduction of credit support schemes to encourage consumer participation in the country’s efforts to attaining a 10 % renewable energy penetration by 2020 (Strategic National Energy Plan, 2006-2020). Alas, after fourteen years, the needle has not been moved in any significant way towards attaining this target. As a result, the target deadline has been extended to 2030. Microcredit and capital investment schemes could make this new target deadline a reality in future.

Perhaps the bane of Ghana’s energy transition agenda, Net Metering as a strategy to accelerate business and household participation in the solar energy electricity market has largely failed. Net Metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar or other associated renewable energy system owners for the amount of electricity they add to the national grid. Net Metering is a recent regulatory policy measure which was piloted in 2015 by the Energy Commission as part of a national strategy to up-scale solar energy transition. However, due to a dissonance between Solar Energy Service Providers, Electricity Company of Ghana (ECG), and other stakeholders of the electricity and power supply market, the policy was put into abeyance. This is an example of government failure to cave-out a binding regulatory regime to make the Net Metering policy plausible—a win-win agenda for all stakeholders of the electricity market.

While a cloud of anxiety hangs over solar energy service providers and other investors in the renewable energy domain, it is critical (and of course a recommendation) that government ambitiously sets a plan for action on reviving and continuing the Net metering regime through comprehensive lenses of technology development/transfer, financial, and legal standpoints. A conscientious approach to reviving the Net Metering scheme is indispensable to its success. Ultimately, this perhaps will provide a panacea to the country’s power supply challenges.

With a prior Biochemical Science training, permit me shine the spotlight on the future of combustion fuels for automobiles. Biofuels present a clean source of energy for mechanical applications but remains a largely untapped frontier. Research demonstrates that investments in bioenergy presents an unchartered frontier for climate action, especially in developing countries where petroleum-based products are not only drivers of climate change but also costs national governments huge foreign exchange losses. Biofuels are carbon-neutral and present cleaner sources of energy—zero CO2 emissions. Harnessing natural capital, including biomass for fuel is not novel. However, the timeliness of needed investments in biofuels is critical to gear up global efforts towards climate change mitigation as well as reducing concomitant costs of importation of petroleum-based fuel products by developing countries.

One significantly unchartered frontier that needs to be harnessed is research and development of how to leverage food-waste due to post-harvest losses for fuel. Apart from non-edible oil-seeds as biomaterials for climate-smart and clean biofuels, more cutting-edge research should be focused on how to transform post-harvest losses of starch-rich staples (such as cassava and yam, for example, in Ghana) into bioethanol production for fuel. This presents an effective approach to addressing global climate change whiles providing the co-benefit of clean and cheap fuel sources for local communities in poor countries—like ours.

Going forward, it is commonplace knowledge that renewable energy resources will gain traction as the most sustainable pathway for future energy delivery globally. We see the aggression by the private sector for investment is the sector. We don’t have to look too far. Big Industry is getting aboard. An example is Diageo’s investment of ₤150 million in renewables across West Africa, including Ghana. Renewable energy resources will continue to play a critical role in the delivery of sustainable and clean energy solutions for a critical mass of our world’s population, albeit with seeming and unapparent barriers. The countries which are perhaps likely to reap the windfall of the fledgling green energy revolution will be those that pay critical attention to seemingly intractable problems. And develop corresponding solutions. The Republic of Ghana through intentional strategy and actionable projects can become a leader of this nascent renewable energy frontier in Africa.

By Abdul-Washeru M.K. Alhassan

The author is a Renewable Energy Consultant and holds a Master’s Degree in Climate Change and Sustainable Development. The author may be reached at washeru1@gmail.com