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close this bookThe Global Greenhouse Regime. Who Pays? (UNU, 1993, 382 p.)
close this folderPart III National greenhouse gas reduction cost curves
close this folder9 Carbon abatement potential in West Africa
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentLong-term energy and carbon emissions scenarios
View the documentOptions for rational energy use and carbon conservation
View the documentEconomic opportunities for implementation
View the documentPolicy issues for the region
View the documentConclusions
View the documentReferences

Options for rational energy use and carbon conservation

In general terms, the policy options available to reduce energy use and carbon emissions are: low-carbon fuels and fuel substitution; renewable energy technologies; large-scale biomass development; energy efficiency technologies; energy pricing; and carbon taxes. This section will review each of these policy options as they pertain to the region.

Development of fossil fuel resources

West Africa has abundant exploitable energy reserves, including more than 2.3 billion tonnes of crude petroleum, about 90 billion cubic metres of natural gas; some high and poor quality coal deposits; vast hydropower resources; uranium; and large quantities of renewable sources of energy.

It will be easier to attract the requisite external development capital for oil and gas development than for coal as these sources are exportable and emit one third to a half of the carbon per unit energy output as does coal. These fossil fuels, however, are distributed unevenly with more than 80 per cent located in Nigeria. Moreover, more than 80 per cent of oil produced in the region is exported, even as some countries within the region suffer from an acute shortfall of oil. Additional prospecting may uncover more fossil fuel resources, although exploration is risky and expensive. The positive signs reported in the Gulf of Guinea suggest that joint ventures with foreign partners may be productive.

Presently, Nigeria flares more than 70 per cent of its natural gas production. The completion of its liquefaction plant now under construction will supply local electrical power and industrial energy needs and allow exports to nearby countries. The un-exploited hydropower resources of West Africa are estimated to be at least 40,000 MWe.20 Nearly all countries in the region contain hydropower potential. Hydropower may be constrained both financially and environmentally, however. The climatic impacts of large-scale hydro development must be studied before large investments are sunk into this option.

Fuel substitution

Fuel substitution is possible in households and in the electrical supply system. In the Sahelian countries, LPG substitutes for woodfuels as a cooking fuel in urban households. Countries with such programmes include the Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. Ghana promotes widespread use of LPG in households and institutional users.

Replacing woodfuels with petroleum based fuels may increase carbon emissions unless the biomass is produced on a renewable basis. In any case, shifting to gas will likely reduce the pressure on forests that have not been cut by woodfuel suppliers. Natural gas offers a more attractive substitute than coal. Not only is natural gas less carbon-intensive, but gas-fuelled combined gas turbines can be built at lower total cost than other fossil fuel power plants, and even large hydropower plants.

Renewable energy sources

Modern renewable energy sources which emit little or no carbon have great potential in the region, especially for small and decentralized applications and to meet the needs of dispersed, vulnerable groups. The high front end costs, however, must be made more affordable for the intended users.

At present, some mature renewable energy technologies have proven their viability in the region. Solar energy devices for household use, and standalone power systems especially for communication and water pumping, are very promising. Technical and pricing problems remain, however. Recent studies show that wind speeds equivalent to those exploited in Denmark exist along the coast of Senegal and Mauritania. The falling cost and increasing technological maturity of wind generators offer the possibility of integrating wind-power into a national distribution grid.

Biomass energy

Biomass energy utilization in the region is limited to small-scale energy applications except for a few agro-based industries. Recent work has shown that this energy source can be used in large-scale end uses and can compete with other modern fuels. If these systems (referred to as biomass integrated gasifiers/gas turbines or BIG/GT) are well planned, then their net carbon emissions can be minimized by replanting programmes. The configuration of these systems can be varied. The most promising application is in the sugar industry, a major part of the regional economy.

These technologies are likely to be commercialized by the mid-1990s, after which time they could play a major role. A pilot plant is already under construction in Brazil and another is contemplated for the Ivory Coast. The successful introduction of ethanol as transport fuel in Zimbabwe and Malawi can be emulated in West Africa, especially in land-locked countries.

Energy efficiency technologies

Energy efficiency technologies offer the region many opportunities to increase energy services from existing and new energy transforming capital stocks. Energy efficiency, therefore, should be treated as equivalent to supply options at the margin. The potential for using energy efficiency technologies in developing countries is great, not least because their energy sectors are so wasteful.

The most attractive sectors for implementing these technologies are the most carbon-intensive in the long-term scenarios of this study, namely, the residential, transport and industrial sectors. Three sets of efficiency technologies have promise capital-intensive measures which will require external financial assistance; housekeeping and retrofitting at little or no cost; and improved household devices. The first requires external assistance from the highly industrialized countries which will develop most of these technologies. The other two can be undertaken largely by local efforts.

Relatedly, transmission and distribution (T&D) losses offer additional potential to conserve carbon. Up to 15 per cent improvement in overall T&D efficiency is easily achievable in Nigeria and Ghana by the year 2025. Most of the technical measures needed to reduce T&D losses are not expensive and are quickly recovered by utilities, as occurred in Sudan where the benefits were 12 times the installed cost of efficiency measures. Improving the thermal efficiency of the whole power system, which can drop as low as 22 per cent, as in Benin, can also slow the growth of emissions in the regional power sector.

Improved woodfuel stoves and charcoal kilns have great technical potential to reduce energy consumption and to conserve carbon, especially in urban areas. These devices, however, have limited acceptability in rural areas because of social and financial constraints. Nonetheless, designs have been tested successfully and disseminated in Kenya, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Energy pricing

Energy pricing is a useful instrument for controlling the quantity and type of energy used. However, prices are also used to promote welfare goals in many poor countries by inter-fuel and cross-consumer subsidies. Nonetheless, cost recovery rather than social equity guides energy pricing policy in most of the region today. Reforming electricity prices is linked to changing billing and revenue collection practices. The failure to bill and collect revenue has left many utilities unable to realize revenues based on nominal high tariffs.

Biomass fuels are largely unregulated and suppliers often use their market power to exploit consumers. Prices for energy services in the region badly need to be adjusted to reflect real economic and environmental costs. The analysis that should underlie a price reform strategy should consider several innovative measures including carbon taxes.

Carbon taxes

Events at the global level affect the macroeconomic environment of countries in West Africa. Carbon taxes are one recent method proposed to fund collaboration between developed and developing countries for carbon conservation. Revenues from carbon taxes could fund businesses with minimal adverse environmental effects in developing countries that would use equipment and expertise supplied by the developed countries.

Obstacles and strategies

A significant number of financial, institutional and technical obstacles exist which block the region from implementing these options.

Lack of investment finance is a major obstacle to energy development in the region. This scarcity arises from the inability of local economies to generate domestic capital and diminishing access to foreign capital. Establishing mechanisms to mobilize local capital as occurred in Ghana can improve the situation. However, the region's inability to repay its existing energy loans casts doubts on its ability to take on new debt to increase its energy efficiency and to reduce carbon emissions. The continuous fluctuation of exchange rates further erodes the region's capacity to meet its debt obligations. However, stimulating local investments, minimizing foreign inputs, and establishing better planning mechanisms can reduce these difficulties.

'Institutional inertia' also affects the implementation of new ideas. The power sector is especially susceptible to institutional conservatism. Also, many energy institutions are rated in terms of their technical efficiency rather than on their energy or financial performance. The generally poor management of energy and related institutions also hinders the effective implementation of these measures.

Institutional reform, therefore, is an essential ingredient of a carbon abatement strategy. Separating generation from distribution, as in Nigeria, and privatization of utilities, as in the Ivory Coast, exemplify such reforms. New institutional mechanisms to produce and use biomass energy are also needed urgently due to its potential importance in the energy sector of the region. Adequate information must also be disseminated to equipment producers, government personnel, local R&D personnel, and technology users if these technologies are to diffuse rapidly. An institutional framework for the collection, organization, storage and retrieval of this information is another prerequisite for success. Computers can provide cheap access to international information flows. Harmonizing equipment standards will also ensure increased compatibility between equipment, a crucial issue for developing countries at the receiving end of donor programmes.

Finally, improving training facilities and programmes and improving labour markets will increase the supply of technical competence when and where it is needed, as well as reducing dependence on foreign assistance. A rational allocation of local human resources, developing well-planned follow-up programmes, enhancing a well-articulated local R&D system, and establishing collaborative programmes with external agencies can further ameliorate these problems. Increasing public awareness to promote these options will also facilitate their use.