Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam yesterday proposed the setting up of an energy-efficiency management body to formulate and implement long-term and sustainable energy policies.
He was speaking at the opening ceremony of the African Presidential Roundtable 2011 at the Maritim Hotel attended by former heads of state, foreign diplomats, international dignitaries, students and faculties from 11 countries.
Dr Ramgoolam also invited the private sector to invest in renewable energy to help Mauritius become “autonomous” in this sector. The main theme under discussion at this year’s meeting is “21st Century Energy Agenda for Africa”.
The African Presidential Roundtable is organised by the Boston University African Presidential Archives and Research Centre (APARC). The first meeting was held in 2003. Reliable and cost-competitive energy has centre stage at this year’s meeting.
Prime Minister Ramgoolam stressed the importance of ensuring long-term supply and access to energy at reasonable prices to sustain economic success.
He also said the rountable was taking place against a backdrop of a series of events – “The political and social unrest in Africa and the Middle East, the economic downturn and the price volatility of oil and fossil fuels and other commodities have increased the risks to our energy security”.
He added that the difficult situation was exacerbated by the natural calamity in Japan and the recent decision by Germany to phase out nuclear power.
“This decision will affect us as Germany will have to revert to other energy sources. So the discussions in this meeting have to be put in the broader perspective of sustainable growth and development in sub-Saharan Africa.”
According to the prime minister, the long history of human development “bears testimony to the power of human ingenuity in overcoming obstacles and improving living standards”. But this ingenuity will be tested in the 21st century as energy prices rise and reliance on sustainable resources takes on a new urgency.
“The 21st century energy agenda for Africa will provide real challenges but also enormous opportunities,” he told the delegates. Dr Ramgoolam believes the challenges faced by Africa are shared by other countries.
“As world economic prosperity spreads beyond a small group of countries in Western Europe and North America, the price of petrol has been rising sharply. Ensuring long-term access to energy at reasonable prices will be important if we want to maintain our competitiveness.” The solution can come from renewable sources of energy.
And while some African countries are oil exporters, the shift towards sustainable energy offers real potential amongst a wider set of African economies which can potentially draw on solar energy and biofuels.
When Mauritius achieved independence in 1968, he told the rountable, it used to depend 60% on renewable energy – the byproducts of sugar cane industry and hydropower. With economic growth and demographic expansion, the same sources represent today only 20% of the total electricity mix.
“We are targeting 35% autonomy by 2025 through increased use of green energy,” he said. The Maurice Ile Durable (MID) project is a response to the energy challenges.
In 2008, 25,000 houses were equipped with solar water heaters and with the implementation of the MID Fund, the number of households equipped with solar water heaters has more than doubled. Dr Ramgoolam believes that another way of moving towards greater autonomy is by democratising the energy sector.
The Mauritian government has introduced a scheme which will allow households and businesses to produce their own electricity through renewable sources and sell upto 70% to the Central Electircity Board (CEB).
“This project has attracted significant interest from individual households as well as from commercial entities,” the delegates were told.
Existing sources of renewable energy will be increased with the announcement that a landfill gas-to-energy plant will be set up this year. Moreover, two wind farms will be feeding electricity to the national grid by next year. But the prime minister admitted the government does not have the required financial means to drive Mauritius towards autonomy in the energy sector.
“The government is inviting private promoters to express their intention to invest in solar technology to produce energy,” he informed delegates.
The development of sustainable energy will depend on the capacity of African countries to identify and tap appropriate technologies. Moreover the importance of developing regional priorities, establishing strategic partnerships and attracting capital investments has to be constantly emphasised.
The prime minister pointed out that even though the agenda is an ambitious one, “we have to bear in mind that most of what needs to be done, needs to be done in Africa by Africans”.
By Nilen Kattany