West Africa has large energy resources, which accounts for about one-third of African gas and oil reserves and over 23,000 Megawatt (MW) of technically exploitable hydropower capacity according to a World Bank Report.
The challenge appears to be infrastructure and expertise to exploit the resource to ensure electricity efficiency for the region coupled with issues of regulatory frame work and policies to address the challenges and high tariffs.
According to the World Bank reports of July 2021, a key challenge has been distribution as the major sources of electricity supply, which are located far away from the main centers of consumption. This development has compelled the ECOWAS Parliament to call on member countries to enforce policies to address the electricity challenges in the region.
Although the West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) programme in the region was conceived to help address this problem, it is doubtful if the programme has met its target of improving access to energy in a region where much of the population has relied on firewood and charcoal to meet their energy needs.
Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Sidie Mohammed Tunis, called for more improvement and investments in the sector at the closing of the ECOWAS Parliament Delocalised Meeting on “Ensuring energy efficiency in West” which ended in Abidjan, Cote d’Iviore at the weekend.
The meeting emphasized on innovation, active involvement of the private sector and citizen participation, as a critical factor for achieving efficiency in the energy sector, which can only be achieved through effective policies.
Building on specific objectives, the regional parliament seeks to understand the greater issues of energy efficiency measures, in much the same way it seeks capability in energy management as the members of parliament moved to encourage research and development in energy efficient technologies and raise the awareness of the public on the role of the private sector in energy conservation.
According to the Speaker “Even more important was the disclosure of the opportunities that energy efficiency provides and how investments in energy provide relatively quick returns with a high degree of certainty.
“As one of the most-powerful forces for improving lives, strengthening communities, and accelerating countries towards self-reliance, private sector engagement and the approaches it leverages build the skills, resources, knowledge, and incentives needed to improve the sector.
“Perhaps, in an effort to manage the Energy sector, Governments can be the effective regulators, while the private sector addresses issues relating to access and provide technical and operational capacity.
“Governments can ensure commitment to long-term policies and necessary regulatory tools, in addition to creating special lending facilities aiming to provide direct support and facilitate renewable energy.
“To improve the standard of living across our region, we must continuously explore newer technologies and innovations. Let us look ahead into the future and build a high-end and prudent platform for regional energy development,” Tunis said.
Another major impediment as recognized by the Speaker was that businesses and individuals are not capitalizing on the opportunities in the sector, due to barriers, such as lack of awareness, as well as non-availability of resources.
Therefore, it behooves on the regional body to facilitate information sharing, approaches and practical applications in effective energy management and above all develop the political will to make far-reaching commitments to galvanise member countries to key into a streamlined regional energy policy.
WAPP, during its 15th General Assembly Session in Lome, Togo in 2020, tagged “Building resilience against the effects of COVID-19 while advancing the realization of the WAPP Regional Electricity Market,” emphasized on the increasing energy needs of the region.
While most governments in West Africa have now set up Rural Electrification Agencies or Rural Electrification Funds, the impact of such organisations may be weakened by a lack of financial and technical expertise. It therefore calls for more robust financing without which the objective of energy efficiency may remain a mere dream.