|Nearly half of Senegal’s population have no access to electricity. Photo credit: jbdodane via Flickr.|
By Anders Lorenzen
While countries and financial institutions are distancing themselves from coal, one African country see coal as key to their energy future.
Senegal, on the African west coast, mostly known for its fishing industry, have signed a contract with the energy company Africa Energy SA to build a coal-fired power plant with a capacity of at least 300 megawatts (MW) by 2017.
Senegal, who is an energy poor country, relies heavily on energy imports which means that power blackouts are a frequent occurrence. The country relies mainly on diesel and gas for their electricity generation and sees switching to coal as a cheaper means of generating electricity.
Senegalese government sees coal as the future
Senegal have a target that their electricity production should be 25% coal powered by 2017 and the African Energy SA coal project would see them adding nearly half of current capacity which according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) stands at 623 MW (EIA data 2011).
But according to World Bank data from 2010, nearly half of all people in Senegal still lack access to electricity as only 53.5% are grid connected, translated in terms of population, it means that 5.12 millions are without electricity. By reducing power blackouts and having a more stable flow of energy, which Senegal are hoping to do through coal power, will not help the large portion of rural population without electricity.
The solar alternative
But is there an alternative that would help more of Senegal’s rural population get access to electricity? The UK charity Solar Aid think so. The charity, whose solar lights have been a huge success in east Africa, are now bringing them to Senegal. Bringing solar lights to rural regions means that those areas that are not grid connected and might not be for decades can get access to light and electricity with huge benefits. Solar Aid’s Director of Research and Impact, Kat Harrison, explains:
“From our experience and research in east Africa we know that solar lights have a massive impact on the lives of those living off-grid in rural areas. A $10 solar light might not seem like it would have such wide-reaching benefits but it really does. We see that families save $70 each year after buying a solar light because they stop/reduce spending on kerosene, candles or batteries for light. Children can study for longer in a brighter and safer environment away from the risk of fires and eye strain; teachers notice improvements in motivation, concentration and performance at school as a result. Household members experience better health; a reduction in coughing, chest problems and eye irritations thanks to being able to stop or reduce usage of kerosene for lighting which is highly polluting – in fact, the equivalent to smoking an estimated 170 cigarettes a year. All of this means that families can be healthier, more productive and make their way out of energy poverty to have a brighter future and more opportunities for development.”
Several other small solar projects funded by the UN and other international organisations are also at work in Senegal. At the same time the World Bank and the US Government, amongst others, have said they would stop funding coal projects abroad unless it was the only option.
Advocates of solar power like Solar Aid are pointing to solar as the fastest solution to get rural populations out of poverty and encourage development. Even though increased use of coal power could help combat blackout issues, it would not solve the issue that nearly half of Senegal’s population are not grid connected and would not benefit from it. As the country are lacking in fossil fuel reserves, campaigners point to the one resource they’re not lacking in: THE SUN.