The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

Other reports in this collection Mitigation and Adaptation: Response Options

The suggestion that a "solar revolution" (Kane, 1996) may replace the temporary fossil economy is rather simplistic. For African countries-which have yet to develop their infrastructure significantly and their basic industries-the need for centralized energy systems will continue for some time, although it may coexist with advances in solar installations. Besides this general transition, Africa's centralized energy systems-including hydroelectric, coal, and oil thermal systems-will need to benefit from cleaner, more efficient energy-conversion technologies. This transition will be based on autonomous efficiency improvements in the short to medium term, but Africa will not be in a position to drive trends toward such improvements, due to economic and technical trends.

Wind energy is a widely suggested option, based on average wind speeds of 5.8 m/s (Kane, 1996). Unless technologies are developed to generate electricity at lower speeds, the windmill option will remain limited in its application because wind speeds in the region generally are low, averaging 3-5 m/s.

New and renewable energy sources, however, offer other benefits in addition to being alternatives to large hydropower and thermal power generation systems. These alternative energy sources will generate more jobs overall in the economy. According to Kane (1996), these jobs will be high-quality jobs, mainly in systems design. For this reason, this benefit may remain limited in Africa because the continent lags other regions in the development of new technologies such as windmills, solar photovoltaics (PVs), and biogas digesters, which have been spearheaded in China and India. African countries should take immediate steps, with external support, to rectify this deficiency.

Energy efficiency improvements-which, in Africa, will have to be autonomous in most cases-offer a significant response option. Energy wastage in Africa is quite high; in some cases, savings of up to 40% can be achieved. In the electricity sector, total system losses sometimes exceed 30% in situations where universal standards are below 8%, including some systems in Africa (Davidson, 1992). Reducing these inefficiencies will provide a demand-side option for electricity supply. Demand-side management options, however, need strong support programs to overcome a number of implementation barriers.

With regard to industry, it has been suggested that "much of industry will have to mimic nature, reusing and recycling every chemical that it uses in cyclical processes." This approach implies "shifting to sustainable industries" (Kane, 1996). Before the current climate change debate, this strategy entailed using renewable materials for industrial raw materials-such as natural fibers as opposed to finite resources such as minerals. However, reduced productivity in agriculture-which is the current base for industrial raw materials in most African countries-limits the usefulness of this suggestion.

Small-scale mills have been suggested as ideal for developing countries because they could achieve recycling of resources and greater efficiencies (Kane, 1996). It would be more efficient, for example, to install small-scale mills in dispersed locations around the country to reduce the cost of moving scrap to large, centrally located mills. In Africa, this approach would be a relevant option to reduce the decline or depletion rate for natural ores and to disperse job opportunities around the country. Steel production is significant in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and South Africa; plants in these countries, however, are traditional large-scale installations. The introduction of small-scale mills could enable the industry to spread to other locations across the continent.


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