Renewable Energy Deployment in Northern Ghana: Identifying Actionable Policy Options

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Background

The high demand for energy in recent years worldwide and carbon dioxide emission concerns have called for the exploration into renewable energy. The importance of renewable energy resources in addressing the energy demands of the economic sectors of many nations cannot be underestimated. Over the past decades, Ghana, amongst other African economies, has seen an increase in energy demand as compared to the supply of energy (Mensah et al, 2016). It is estimated that about 80% of northern Ghanaian households use wood fuel and charcoal for basic cooking and hot water needs. This has adverse effects on the environment since wood fuel and charcoal result in forest depletion. Currently, the forest depletion rate in northern Ghana is estimated at a 2% loss per annum (Mensah et al, 2016).

To meet northern Ghana’s electricity needs, hydropower has been the major energy resource for electricity generation over the last decades. However, as the demand for electricity increases more than the supply, various thermal generation plants, as well as renewable sources (especially solar energy), have been recently integrated into the national grid.

These efforts are not enough since northern Ghana has been experiencing a continual increase of power outages over the past few years, primarily due to increasing economic growth, industrial activities, and insufficient generation capacities (Gyamfi et al, 2015). In the year 2016, there were countrywide power outages (load-shedding) due to limited resources. This was a result of insufficient financial investment in the energy sector.

With this energy crisis, it is evident that the country needs to expand, diversify, and explore alternative energy sources in the northern region. One solution will be exploring the renewable energy generation potentials available in northern Ghana. In this article, an account of renewable energy in northern Ghana is presented, laws and regulations backing the sector are overviewed, and recommendations for the effective utilization are given.

Laws and Regulations backing Renewable Energy in Ghana

According to the Renewable Energy Act 2011, it is mandatory to provide the fiscal incentives and regulatory framework in the energy sector to encourage private investment. This includes Feed-in-Tariff Scheme under which electricity generated from renewable energy sources would be offered at a guaranteed price. The law indicates that power distribution utilities and bulk electricity consumers would be obliged to purchase a certain percentage of their energy requirements from renewable energy sources. Net metering mechanism says that renewable energy generated on site may be delivered to local consumers to offset the cost of electricity provided by the utility.

Challenges in Introducing Renewable Energy in Northern Ghana

Northern Ghana, like other parts of the country, has abundant renewable energy resources. Various renewable energy reserves have been identified in the country, but seldom explored or utilized. Potential renewable energy resources for energy production and utilization include bioenergy (biomass and biogas), solar, wind, hydropower, and tidal and wave power. The unavailability of skilled labor and workforce creates challenges in introducing renewable energy in northern Ghana. Shortage of skilled labor creates the disadvantages of overall decreased prosperity and growth setbacks in the field of renewable energy.

Northern Ghana can consider introducing Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme. The RHI is a payment system established in England, Scotland, and Wales for the generation of heat energy from renewable energy sources. Its main purpose is to encourage users to produce heat from renewable energy sources instead of the conventional fossil fuel heating systems. With the introduction of this scheme in Northern Ghana, the 10% renewable energy utilization target maybe be realized by the year 2020.

Cost of investment and installation is another setback for solar technology which hinders investors from investing. A typical payback period for this technology is estimated at 5-15 years depending on the type of installations. Various studies have been conducted to minimize the cost of investments in the solar technology.

Policy options and recommendations

The ministry of energy, which has authority to initiate and implement suitable energy policies, is encouraged to adopt the following recommendations:

  • Experiment a method for minimizing the cost involved in solar technology. It was illustrated that, by adopting a thermal storage tank, the building peak load can be reduced. This further shortens the total length of the heat exchanging pipes, thereby reducing the cost of installation of this system. Further economic analysis is recommended to justify the cost of storage tank as compared with
    the cost of ground heat exchanger pipes.
  • Incentives by the ministry of energy should be extended to all primary renewable energy sources, specially to Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) technology system for commercial application purposes. The African continent can also be a beneficiary of this scheme while controlling the energy deficits that exist in some parts.
  • The ministry should restructure various academic curriculums to incorporate studies on such systems. The ministry can also consider organizing seminars and workshop by inviting the experts in these fields from across the African continent.
  • The ministry should develop and harness the renewable energy potential that can boost productivity of the various sectors in the country, while making a significant contribution to the export earnings of the economy. Currently 36% of the total energy generated is being utilized in the residential sector only, for cooling, lighting, water heating and consumer products.
  • The ministry should pay attention to the effective monitoring of energy consumption by end-users. This will help establish a workable and reliant data on the energy consumption in the various sectors of the economy to monitor the energy losses that might exist right from the electricity generation.
  • The ministry can also encourage the application of GSHP in both hot weather conditions (for cooling), as well as in cold regions (for heating purposes). This will eliminate the need for installing separate, stand-alone heating and cooling systems.

“The views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.”

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Follow Luqman Abubakari:

Luqman Abubakari is an MPP candidate. Before joining the Brandt School he was the national president of the National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS). He also worked with the National Entrepreneurship and Innovations Plan (NEIP), a flagship program of the current president of Ghana. His focal area is energy.